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9 Dec 2002 : Column 40continued
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): As the Minister is aware, many important extraditions have not gone ahead because of the courts' interpretation of article 3 of the European convention on human rights. Is he aware of the Soering judgment, in which someone accused of murder could not be extradited to the United States under article 3? What will the Bill do to try to streamline such cases and make the extraditions go ahead?
Mr. Denham: It is important to say that the Bill does not seek to overturn the European convention on human rights. Indeed, the convention provides a test for extradition that is built into the Bill, so it would be wrong to suggest that we are attempting to use the Bill as a way round some of the issues arising from the convention. In drafting the Bill, we have sought to make it clear that the extradition proposals do not suspend or change the convention's provisions. Such a human rights principle should be reflected in the Bill.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Although I was grateful to hear my right hon. Friend's kind words of a moment ago, the recommendations in the Home Affairs Committee's report go considerably further than the ones that he has so far adopted. I was a little disappointed, therefore, by the off-hand press release issued on Thursday in response to our report. It seemed to suggest that we should not take too detailed an interest in this subject. I am sure that that was not the intention, but can my right hon. Friend confirm that he proposes to look carefully at the rest of our recommendations and that we might, in future, look forward to seeing some of them implemented too?
Mr. Denham: Naturally, I am very disappointed that my hon. Friend is disappointed at the tone of the press release. I hope that nothing that we said gave the impression that it was not the business of the Home Affairs Committee to look closely at this Bill. In my earlier remarks, I was referring, in particular, to the
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The right hon. Gentleman has received suggestions from a wide circle of people who have taken an interest in the Bill. How many consultees' suggestions were incorporated in changes to the draft Bill before it reached this stage?
Mr. Denham: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the arithmetical answer that he seeks; indeed, some suggestions came from more than one organisation. In particular, the provisions for politically motivated requests and for the health of suspects were made in response to proposals from several different organisations. Further changes were made to the drafting in respect of the release of prisoners if an extradition were withdrawn purely because the consultations revealed that ambiguous drafting had led to the wording being interpreted in entirely the opposite way to that which the Government intended. There were a series of recommendations of that sort. The consultation responses that we have permission to publish are in the House of Commons Library, and I am sure that they will be of use to hon. Members when the Bill is in Committee.
I shall describe in more detail the provisions in the Bill. Parts 1 and 2 create two parallel regimes for handling incoming extradition requests. Part 1 is the more streamlined regime. It will apply initially to requests from other European Union member states and enable us to give effect to the European arrest warrantthe EAW. The Government believe strongly in the principle of mutual recognition. It has been suggested in some quarters that the EAW is the first step towards the creation of a European judicial superstatequite the reverse. It is precisely, if we want to avoid pressure for a Europe with harmonised laws and a single judicial system that we must be prepared to recognise the judicial decisions taken in other European countries.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The right hon. Gentleman has just told the House that the Bill is designed to extend, in the first instance, the power to other European countries. We are, of course, dealing with the power of designation, so to what other countries do the Government, at this time, intend to designate by Order in Council?
There have been fears about foreign police officers coming to Britain to arrest people. They are groundless. Only British law enforcement personnel, such as the police and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, will be permitted to execute a European arrest warrant in this country.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): But the offences are not listed in the Bill and the means of changing or expanding them is by ministerial order. Do the Government not think that that is a highly unsatisfactory process?
Mr. Denham: That is a slightly different issue. I was talking about powers of arrest. The Bill reflects the framework decision on the list of generic offences and makes specific reference to that in, I think, clause 63. The list of generic offences is clear. At the moment, an amendment to the list could be made only by unanimous agreement in the Council of Ministers. It is our judgment that it is better to have drafted the Bill as we have, referring to that decision, rather than to be required automatically to have new primary legislation should such a change be made. I am sure that that will be explored in Committee. The Bill is drafted in such a way as to avoid the need to introduce primary legislation. I am not aware of any proposals in the justice and home affairs division of the EU to change the list of generic offences.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): The Minister said that only a British constable would execute the warrant. Does that mean that he accepts that we need to amend clause 3, which allows the Secretary of State to designate absolutely anyone as an appropriate officer?
Mr. Denham: I said that it was the Government's intention that only British law enforcement personnel would be permitted to execute a European arrest warrant in this country. That means the police, but it could also include Customs and Excise. There are plenty of legal precedents for using the term Xappropriate person", including in legislation adopted by the Conservatives when they were in government to deal with powers of stop, search and entry that gave an even wider range of discretion to the Home Secretary. Given the point of principle that I have outlined, I have no doubt that the precise wording can be considered in Committee.
Tony Cunningham (Workington): A few months ago, I spoke to a police officer who worked on serious crimes, by which I mean drugs, people smuggling and so on. He said that not one of the top 100 criminalsthose people who are involved in the most serious crimeslived in the UK. Is not that a good reason why we need the Bill?
Mr. Denham: Crime is becoming increasingly organised internationally. It is important that the system of extradition does not prevent the effective but just use of extradition to ensure that serious criminals can be dealt with. It is the recognition throughout the European Union that the systems that we have in place make law enforcement and the exercise of justice more difficult that lies behind the agreed moves throughout the EU to change extradition arrangements. I think that my hon. Friend is right.