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9 Dec 2002 : Column 46—continued

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Denham: I should attempt to answer the intervention from the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) before I take others.

First, no one will be extradited for conduct that takes place lawfully in this country. Secondly, it will be possible for people to be extradited for conduct that is not illegal in UK law, but where that conduct has taken place in the requesting state and breaches its law. The principle is simple: British people who go abroad should be expected to obey the law of the country that they are visiting, in the same way as we expect visitors to this country to obey our laws.

If a German citizen came to this country and acted illegally in the UK, we would expect them to be arrested and put on trial, irrespective of whether their conduct was contrary to German law. In the same way, a Briton who visits Germany should not expect to escape justice for breaking German law simply because Britain does not have an exactly equivalent crime. If a British citizen goes to Sweden and breaks the law there, he can expect to be arrested and put on trial, irrespective of whether the conduct is contrary to UK law. I am sure that no right hon. or hon. Member objects to that proposition—

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): I do.

Mr. Denham: It will be useful to flush that out in the debate. I believe that a British citizen who goes to Sweden and breaks the law there should expect to be dealt with by the Swedish criminal justice system. Opposition Members seem to believe that if that person flees before arrest and manages to cross a border, they

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should be safe from prosecution. In a world where travel is so simple and widely available, that is an indefensible position.

Mr. Swayne: Is the Minister suggesting that, had the tourists in Greece earlier in the year left Greece and got back to the UK, and had an extradition warrant subsequently been issued for their arrest, it would have been quite proper for us to ship them back for conduct—observing aeroplanes—that is a crime there, but not here?

Mr. Denham: If a country has a crime of espionage and wishes to charge people with that, that must be its right.

Mr. Swayne: Is that a yes?

Mr. Denham: Just as we in this country would expect our espionage laws to be followed. There is a fundamental point of principle here, which Opposition Members need to recognise. It is difficult to argue that British citizens should be able to travel to other EU countries and break their laws, without arguing that the same rights should be extended to visitors from the EU who come to this country. That is not what our fellow citizens in this country expect. We expect that anybody in the UK who breaks our laws can be brought before British justice and that the extradition system should enable those people, if necessary, to be brought back to face British justice.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Are not specific offences such as sex with children under 16 and some forms of drug trafficking or drug abuse legal in certain European countries but illegal here? Are those who oppose the measure suggesting that we should let people who commit such offences off simply because they flee the country before prosecution?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It would be useful to find out in this debate whether Opposition Members believe that people who break the law in this country should be able to escape justice simply by leaving these shores for another European Union country. That is at the heart of the issue.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Denham: I should like to make a little progress—

Mr. Shepherd: Will the Minister give way on that very point?

Mr. Denham: After I have made some progress, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Not all EU countries have an offence of incitement to racial hatred and most other EU countries do not have an offence of fraudulent trading—but we do. Not all EU countries have laws equivalent to ours on the evasion of

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excise duties. As long as Opposition Members maintain that there must be absolute dual criminality in the EU, it follows that they are suggesting that people can commit the serious offences that I mentioned with complete impunity as long as they can cross the frontier before our police apprehend them.

Mr. Shepherd: Does the Minister not appreciate that the matter is more complex? Essential to our concept of liberty is freedom of expression and free speech. We regard that as an especially important ingredient, but other countries take a view on some elements of free speech. For instance, xenophobia may be a thought crime here, but it is not a legal crime, even though it can be an offence elsewhere. The Bill is now trespassing on areas that affect the freedom of the citizen in this country, as well as that of the German or French person who expresses in words something that is contrary to their law and then seeks residence here. We would have to extradite such a person for something that we hold to be important—the right to freedom of expression.

Mr. Denham: The problem with the hon. Gentleman's argument and the logic of his position is the suggestion that somebody should be able to travel to this country from Portugal—I have nothing against the Portuguese people or any reason to believe that they might wish to do this—which does not have laws on incitement to racial hatred, and incite racial hatred here, perhaps with a serious impact on community cohesion. If they were to escape arrest, they could then return to Portugal without our being able to take action. It is our view that that is unacceptable.

Indeed, the principle that underlies the framework decision in the EU is that member states collectively and unanimously believe that the creation of loopholes that enable criminals to avoid the consequences of their conduct throughout the EU is wholly undesirable both for individual member states and for the development of the EU itself.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Denham: It is useful to have this discussion to flush out some of the issues, but I should like to make some progress. I shall, however, give way to the hon. Lady.

Annabelle Ewing: The Minister said that, in the round, the Bill, and therefore the European arrest warrant, reflected the principle of mutual recognition, which is a key legislative principle in the EU. However, does he accept that, as we have seen in swathes of legislation implementing the EC single market, the principle of mutual recognition is based on the premise of a minimum harmonisation of standards? That has not happened in criminal law as it was outwith the scope of the EC treaty. It is only with regard to third pillar measures that any moves have been made in criminal law. Is it wise to proceed with such measures when we lack proper understanding about whether we have a common and acceptable framework with regard to procedural safeguards in criminal law, for example, and also whether the presumption of innocence is applicable in the terms in which we understand it, certainly in Scots law, throughout the European Union?

Mr. Denham: That is clearly a matter on which hon. Members need to reach a judgment as the Bill

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progresses. The Government believe that the answer to both the hon. Lady's questions is yes. We have sufficient confidence in the criminal justice systems of the mainly mature democracies of the 15 countries of the European Union. I shall deal with the point about the accession states shortly. The European convention on human rights is incorporated into the law of each of those countries. The protection of the presumption of innocence is therefore built into the approach that we are considering.

Mr. Letwin: The Minister has been extremely patient, but I want to take him up on his last point, which he made earlier in passing. Does he accept that there is a difference between the right to a fair trial, which the convention guarantees, and the presumption of innocence, which is a peculiarity of specific judicial systems, including ours?

Mr. Denham: I believe that the protection that we seek for the presumption of innocence is in the charter, but doubtless we shall debate the matter at greater length.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) rose—

Mr. Cameron rose—

Mr. Denham: I need to make progress, but I hope to take further interventions before I finish.

Subject to the Bill's successful passage, we shall be in a position to begin operating the European arrest warrant by the deadline in the framework decision of 1 January 2004. However, it will be possible to use it earlier on a reciprocal basis with countries that enact their enabling legislation before the deadline.

I want to consider part 2, which deals with extradition to the rest of the world. Its provisions are similar to the current system, with a continuing role for the Home Secretary, but it also incorporates some of the advantages of part 1. Instead of the multiple and overlapping hearings and appeals that currently occur, there will be a single extradition hearing, which will be followed by the Home Secretary's consideration of the case. After that, there will be a single appeal hearing, under which all the decisions can be reviewed. The case can subsequently go to the House of Lords if significant points of law have arisen. We have also incorporated significant safeguards from part 1.

No one will be extradited if their mental or physical condition would make that unjust or oppressive. No one will be extradited if a request has been made for the purpose of persecuting the fugitive on the grounds of race, religion or political opinions, or if those factors mean that he is liable to be prejudiced at his trial. No one will be extradited if double jeopardy comes into play, or if the person is below the age of criminal responsibility in this country.

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