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20 Nov 2002 : Column 681—continued

5.43 pm

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) made some very interesting points. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him down that line; I want to devote my eight minutes to the extradition Bill, which is fundamentally misconceived and seriously flawed.

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However, I agree that there is a need to reform extradition legislation, particularly in cases where terrorist suspects are sought.

The United States has been seeking the extradition of three people in connection with the east African embassy bombings for more than three and a half years. It took three years for their case to reach the Court of Appeal. As far as I know, they are still here, but that is not the worst case. The worst case is that of Rachid Ramda, whose extradition is sought by the French Government for the Paris bombings in 1995. He was arrested in November 1995. It took three and a half years for his case to reach the Court of Appeal. It then took the Home Secretary two years to deal with the order for his extradition. However, he is still here, on the seemingly entirely spurious ground that he cannot receive a fair trial in Paris as an Arab Muslim.

It is clear that the extradition procedure needs to be tightened, streamlined and speeded-up. The fault is not all with the courts, but I am amazed that, in the circumstances, the message has not got through to the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the House of Lords that such dilatoriness is not satisfactory—and I am also amazed that the message has not got through to the Home Office that such matters need to be dealt with more quickly.

I concede the need for this Bill, or a similar one. I concede that we need to limit the number of appeals and to tighten up the whole procedure so that we treat countries whose judicial systems we respect—and in which we think that people can get a fair trial—differently from those about which we have doubts. Currently, I think one can make about six appeals in the average extradition case. Under the proposals in the Bill, that would decrease to one, which seems sensible. The Bill goes far further than that, however. In the case of extradition to category 1 countries, it removes almost all the protections that our common and statue laws have built up over the years, and in the case of category 2 countries, it would remove some very important ones.

Three protections have been at the heart of our extradition legislation. Before we consider those, let us be sure about what we are considering: for the vast majority of the time, we are considering the extradition of British subjects for trial in foreign courts. The first of those protections is dual criminality—what one is accused of must be an offence in Britain as well as an offence in the country to which one's extradition is sought. Secondly, enough evidence must be presented to the British court before it orders extradition for it to be satisfied that there is a prima facie case to answer. Thirdly, there is the fall-back of the Home Secretary's discretion over whether to extradite someone—the fall-back of their elected Government deciding through one of their most senior Ministers whether to extradite them. Those rights and freedoms have been built up over a long period, and we should be careful before casually discarding them.

Part 1 of the Bill contains an extremely badly drafted list of offences, which carry no legal definition. What is racism or xenophobia, computer-related crime, or participation in a criminal organisation? Those are just three of a list of about 25 offences. That kind of drafting would not pass muster in an English criminal law statute, although, effectively, that is what it will become. It is incredibly vague, and it is subject to a great variety

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of interpretations. I do not see how xenophobia can be a crime, given that, as I understand it, it is a state of mind—although, apparently, one can be extradited for it. I shall refer later to what I regard as a hypothetical but nevertheless realistic example.

Secondly, in many continental jurisdictions, an investigating magistrate is entitled to arrest people for the purposes of his investigation. When does that right come into play? Somebody could be arrested on the say-so of a Greek or Spanish magistrate, and might spend a long time in jail while the crime or the offence is investigated. Many Members will have had constituents who have languished in Spanish or Greek jails—one of my constituents did so for a year and a half while awaiting trial on a relatively minor drugs offence. Before we put any of these provisions into operation, we must make sure that the countries to which faster-track extradition will take place have minimum juridical standards. For instance, if somebody is extradited, they should be charged within seven days, tried within three months, and an appeal must be made within a certain period. If the British plane spotters who returned from their holiday in Greece and were charged with espionage had been charged with terrorism, or a related offence, they would have had absolutely no defence against extradition. There would have been no way for them to stop the process of being extradited back to Greece.

At least non-scheduled offences, which are not on the list, require the rule of dual criminality. The prima facie rule does not apply to them, however, and the Home Secretary has no discretion with regard to them. In relation to category 2 countries, the situation is slightly better, as the prima facie and dual criminality rules are required, but the grounds on which the Secretary of State can resist extradition are very small and fall within a very tight definition of national security.

I shall give an example. One of the categories of offences for which automatic extradition applies is that of crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. The war that we conducted in Kosovo was considered by many legal authorities to be illegal, and I suspect that the Greek Government, who were heavily on the side of the Serbs in that conflict, would take that view. Were a Greek magistrate, on the complaint of a human rights organisation in Greece, to charge our Prime Minister, perhaps after he had left office, with criminal offences in connection with that, there would be no way under these proposals that that could be stopped. The Home Secretary must have a fall-back power to stop such wholly unrealistic activity.

What we saw in the Pinochet case—not many Labour Members sympathised with General Pinochet—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) says from a sedentary position, not many Conservative Members did either. What we saw, however, was an extremely dangerous precedent. We should not forget that the same thing might happen to a senior Minister in a British Government.

The legislation goes far too far. There is a problem and we need to reintroduce standards of dual criminality and provisions for a prima facie case and discretion for

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the Home Secretary. It is Parliament's job to protect the liberties of our citizens, in particular those liberties that have been built up over a long period. This is a case in which Parliament should stand up to the Government and make the Home Secretary think again. If we do that, we will have the vast majority of the press, the judges, lawyers, the House of Lords and public opinion and—dare I say it—justice on our side. I hope that enough Labour Members realise that they will find it very difficult to explain to a constituent why that person's child, wife or husband has been automatically extradited for something that is not an offence in the UK, for which no evidence was produced and for which there was no appeal to the Home Secretary. If extradition is automatic, people may languish in a foreign jail.

5.50 pm

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I am glad to be called because I particularly wish to speak about antisocial behaviour, which has badly affected some of my constituents in the past few months. If I have time, I also wish to talk about vagrancy and begging, which has always been an issue in my constituency.

In the summer, I received several complaints about a group of young children who were terrorising their neighbourhood. In fact, I met some of them on one of the regular visits that I make to the area. They were aged between about eight and 14, and the police tell me that none of them was involved with drink or drugs, but many of them truanted from school and some came from dysfunctional families.The group grew in size over the summer, particularly when the police were temporarily distracted by the tragic events in Soham. In passing, may I point out that I hope that if a request for additional funding is received, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider it sympathetically? The costs of Operation Fincham were excessive for a small police force such as that in Cambridgeshire.

By September, a group of 20 children, with a hard core of five or six, were involved in petty vandalism, arson, breaking windows and, in some cases, intimidating lone women and elderly people. I know that the people in the area were furious and turned out in large numbers to a police consultation meeting, which I also attended, in September. One woman told me how frightened she had been when a group of youths surrounded her car and made it impossible for her to get out and go into her house. She was rescued only because she happened to have a mobile phone with her and was able to summon help.

I discussed the situation with the police and they told me that the only way they could break this circle of behaviour was by involving other agencies, such as schools, housing associations and social services. Their first move was to get the children who were truanting back into school. The action that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) took, when she was Secretary of State for Education and Skills, to encourage the prosecution and imprisonment of parents who fail to send their children to school had a positive and beneficial effect. Although it did not directly affect parents in my constituency, it certainly made them realise that the Government were serious about getting children into school.

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The second move that the police took was to try to involve the housing associations. In this area, three housing associations cover social housing and the police tried to obtain their co-operation in threatening eviction orders if parents did not bring their children under control. That has been difficult to achieve, because several housing associations were involved and some were more co-operative than others. It is probably true to say that the independent housing associations have not worked collectively as part of the problem-solving process.

Social services were also involved in offering advice and support to parents. Such a multi-agency approach is effective and could be more effective as trust builds between the police and the different agencies. For example, the police tell me that there is a great variation in the co-operation offered by secondary schools. Some of them are very co-operative and invite the police in, while others are much more suspicious. More co-operation between schools and the police would be beneficial in such circumstances. The situation is now much improved and the police have been successful. The children now attend school or, in some cases, a pupil referral unit where they can be given much closer attention than in a mainstream school.

Following the events in the summer, I paid a visit to my local youth offending service at the invitation of its director, Tom Jefford. He wanted me to see the effect of Government legislation and how effective it had been on changing the environment around young people's behaviour. He invited all his section heads to come to talk to me about the work that they were doing, and I was particularly moved by a young woman who was in charge of the lay panels that interview young offenders and monitor their behaviour. Children who have been involved in the vandalism of the sort that I have described are given a caution for the first offence. However, for their second and subsequent offences, they have to attend a meeting of the lay panel, which may include the victim of their antisocial behaviour. I gather that the national participation rate of victims in the lay panels is around 20 per cent., but in Cambridge it is nearer 80 per cent. I heard that the young offenders attending the panels are often visibly moved and distressed on hearing of the victim's experience. We do not know whether this will have a positive effect on the offending rate in the long term, but the signs are good. Young people begin to identify with the victim, start to understand the effect of their behaviour on other people and become more socially integrated. The youth offending team was optimistic about the effect that such measures will have.

The team also told me about the acceptable behaviour contracts that bind a young person to a set of rules that govern his or her behaviour. The panels usually monitor the contracts and hold the young people to account if their behaviour does not reach the required standards. All such measures have proved to be extremely positive and beneficial.

I also talked to several police officers. The community beat officers in the city told me of the changes that they would like to take place. On the rules for antisocial behaviour orders, I understand that, at present, it is not possible to write down positive behaviour points on the orders. They usually say that a young person must not

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do something, whereas the police would like to write down what the young people must do. That would present a much more positive image.

I have already discussed the problems of children as young as eight in my constituency, and their parents must become much more involved. They should know where their children are and should be able to discipline them properly. In some cases, parenting orders will help. However, sadly, in many dysfunctional families heroin or crack cocaine may be a problem for the parents, and serving parenting orders on them is unlikely to lead to an improvement in their behaviour.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is introducing a Bill on these issues. It will certainly have my support.

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