Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9 Dec 2002 : Column 68—continued

Derek Conway: The hon. and learned Gentleman is making a telling point. I am sure that he heard the Minister of State say that the list could be extended by the Council of Ministers. I was not sure from the right hon. Gentleman's contribution whether that meant that the matter would return to the House for scrutiny or whether there could be an Executive power in conjunction with the other members of the Council of Ministers.

Ross Cranston: The difficulty is that, for members of the European Union, in many ways, decisions are made by the Executives of the different countries. The Parliaments of the different jurisdictions will have to rubber-stamp, as it were, the proposals that are made. That is the nature of membership of the EU. That arises in many federations. Executives of federations agree on a policy, and the Parliaments, states, provinces or whatever are asked to give approval. In many instances, legislators are presented with a fait accompli. The Select Committee is recommending that, in that case, the Government should explain the matter to the House so that at least we can be reassured on what has been decided.

The protections of the European convention on human rights that are built into the Bill are extremely important. Xenophobia is a listed offence. Article 8—freedom of speech—might well be brought to bear in extradition in relation to that offence. I am concerned that the list is not in the Bill, but I accept that there are practical reasons for that. At the same time, there is great merit in what the Select Committee said about a fall-back position.

The Select Committee also recommended that a district judge might certify that there is not dual criminality and that then the Home Secretary—

Mr. Cameron: I do not want to be oily but the hon. and learned Gentleman has considerable legal expertise. We thought long and hard on the Select Committee before submitting the suggestion to which he referred. Will he tell us whether, from his experience, it would amend the European arrest warrant to make it something that we had not signed up to, or whether it would be an acceptable way of making the procedure work and provide an extra safeguard?

Ian Lucas: Do not give free advice.

Ross Cranston: Perhaps my hon. Friend is right.

At this stage, I can only say that I see some merit in the suggestion. I want the Government to consider the point seriously in Committee. It seems to have a certain value.

Mr. Shepherd: The hon. and learned Gentleman took comfort in the fact that there was a back-stop in the

9 Dec 2002 : Column 69

European Court of Human Rights, but states already have xenophobia as an offence as part of their legal codes. That has presumably been acceptable to the Court, which would therefore be no protection in a collision between the freedom of expression that we respect and the criminal code of other countries.

Ross Cranston: Yes, there is no doubt about that. I shall shortly consider the operation of legal systems in other countries that have often got the green light in decisions by the European Court of Human Rights even though one may doubt whether they are human rights-compliant. Clause 21, however, says that judges have to address the human rights point. In theory, they could decide—I do not suggest that this is a strong possibility—that, even though the warrant relates to xenophobia, that runs contrary to article 8 in the European convention on the freedom of speech and that extradition should not take place. As I said, the list of offences gives rise to concerns. During consideration of the Bill, the Government may well introduce changes to assure us that the bars on extradition will operate robustly.

I have already foreshadowed the fact that even though countries may be members of the European Union or, in a wider context, the Council of Europe, we are not always reassured by the operation of their criminal justice systems. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South mentioned people being on remand for substantial periods, and I certainly have knowledge of that. It would be invidious to mention particular countries, but the system in some EU countries or, more widely, European convention or Council of Europe countries, does not always reassure us about the extent to which human rights are taken into account in practice.

I am reassured by the robust approach of our courts in, for example, the recent Ramda decision, when the High Court said that the fact that France was a signatory to the European convention on human rights was not a complete answer. The courts have also said that they are not prepared, in asylum cases, for example, to accept what Germany does. France and Germany, one may think, have systems comparable to ours but our courts, taking a closer look, have said that they are not prepared to accept at face value the extent to which human rights operate there.

Clause 21 will therefore be extremely important in the operation of the system. We must work on the assumption that each EU member and, possibly, each signatory to the European convention has a criminal justice system in which human rights are recognised and which complies with article 6 and the fair trial provision. Clause 21 opens up the possibility that the subject of the warrant can say, XIn these circumstances, the operation of the system will not be human rights-compliant," which will be of considerable reassurance to hon. Members.

In conclusion, the Bill is overdue, the system is in need of considerable reform—it is weighed down by an accretion of law going back more than a century—and the problem of cross-border crime needs to be addressed. None the less, we cannot give the Bill unequivocal approval because some matters still require the Government's urgent attention—the list of category 1 offences and the fact that some category 1 countries,

9 Dec 2002 : Column 70

although they may generally operate in compliance with the European convention, may not in practice meet that standard.

6.25 pm

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): As a simple and humble man—I know that my colleagues share that view—I hesitate to intrude on what, on such an occasion, can be a lawyer fest. When introducing the Bill to the House, the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety used tempered words, which were very convincing indeed. However, before the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) gets too excited, the response of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) was utterly devastating. I do not think that he is a lawyer, but I would hate to appear against him as the defence—his performance was extremely impressive, and many of his points will be difficult for the Under-Secretary to answer in his winding-up speech.

On many occasions, I have listened in the Chamber to Ministers' tempered words and the honeyed assurances of lawyers. In fact, they came from a Conservative Government. When the House was considering the Single European Act such was the effectiveness of those reasonable words that they even secured the enthusiasm of Baroness Thatcher and Lord Tebbit. I see one or two faces in the Chamber this afternoon who, like me, were less persuaded. Sadly, however, my right hon. and hon. Friends fell for those honeyed words, only to regret it later. When legislation is introduced which, whatever people say, extends the power of European states, the House should tread with great care.

The report produced by the Select Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) makes for interesting reading. The House should take its advice and exercise great caution. The Bill has been described as an attack on civil liberties, and I have not yet heard a convincing rebuttal of that charge. Our Front Bench spokesmen are right to oppose the Bill—I shall join them tonight—and the introduction of a European arrest warrant. It is not right to extradite Britons for offences that are not crimes in the United Kingdom—that is not acceptable to our constituents. The thought of foreign police being able to initiate the arrest of a British citizen in the UK for something that is not a crime here will go down very badly with the British public. The Minister graciously gave way to me, but did not deal with my point about the 32 serious offences that may cause UK citizens to be handed over to a foreign power, even though they will not have committed a crime here.

Dr. Palmer: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the reverse is acceptable? Does he believe that if someone comes here and commits a crime under our law, but can argue that it is not a crime in his country, we should not extradite him?

Derek Conway: I am not sure that I do—it depends on the crime. People have a right to expect protection from the Government of the country where they are citizens. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman reads The Daily Telegraph—I know that it is not the most popular

9 Dec 2002 : Column 71

newspaper among Government Members—but Lord Scott, a Law Lord, commented in it that the definition of a xenophobia offence in the schedule to the Bill

I am too young to understand the reference to Biggles, but some of my hon. Friends may have read about him—perhaps it would cause offence in continental Europe. However, people who take such books abroad with them as holiday reading should not risk being arrested when they return to Britain.

The definition of political opinions is more serious and much more worrying. The process of extradition may well be imperfect, but it could cause us to risk sending British citizens abroad for trial. I do not believe that there is a Member on either side of the House who would challenge the proposition that appalling crimes should be dealt with. No reasonable person believes that a national or geographical border should hamper ultimate justice, but provision already exists in English law to protect that process.

I believe the Bill to be another brick—a very heavy brick—in the growing temple of the European state. It goes agin what Britons have held and continue to hold dear, which is not only sovereignty, but the protection of our citizens in our country. I hope that the measure fails to obtain a Second Reading tonight.

Next Section

IndexHome Page