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9 Dec 2002 : Column 74—continued

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I assure my hon. Friend that there is no intention on the Government's part and no desire in the USA—the main country that we are talking about in terms of extradition—to propose consideration for entry into category 1. However, we have extradited people in fairly substantial numbers to the United States, many of them potentially in respect of capital offences, without any problem, having received the assurances that are set out. There is no intention of watering down assurances about capital punishment in respect of either category 1 or category 2 or allowing extradition so that people can be executed.

Ian Lucas: I am pleased and reassured by the Minister's assurance. I know well and greatly admire the stance that the Government have taken on the death penalty internationally. My concern is that the written assurances would relate not only to the United States, but to another country that has not been specified at this stage. I wonder whether we can rely on written assurances from other Governments on the same basis as that on which we rely on those of the United States.

Annabelle Ewing: I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns about clause 91 and, indeed, clause 15, which deals with the same issue. I find very worrying the language saying that we must rely on a judgment made by the Secretary of State. Even in the United States, the

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death penalty process can take a decade or even longer. At what point will the assurance become less assuring, given that the process takes so long?

Ian Lucas: I shall leave the Under-Secretary to respond in due course.

Harry Cohen: The Government rightly ask for assurances from the United States, but other Governments or even individual Ministers who are more supportive of the death penalty may decide not to ask for such assurances. Is my hon. Friend taking that into account?

Ian Lucas: I take my hon. Friend's point, but the Bill relates to this country, so although our ambit is wide, I think that his approach is rather Palmerstonian. Perhaps we should restrict our discussions to the United Kingdom.

I should like to take up one further point in relation to the speech of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who often makes great play in the House of terminological exactitude and the importance of being very specific. Indeed, that was part of his criticism of the Government's position, but in that context, it would be appropriate in future for him to make it clear whether, in talking about the United Kingdom, he is talking about England and Wales, Scotland or the United Kingdom as a whole. As an Englishman who is proud to represent a Welsh constituency, I know that a large number of my constituents would not take kindly to the attitude that he took in his speech. Indeed, it may go some way towards explaining why the Opposition have no representative of Wales in the House.

6.48 pm

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): I thought for a moment that the Government had found a supporter in the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), but I am afraid that his speech was less unequivocal than it had seemed it would be. So far, the Government have failed to find unequivocal support among their Back Benchers.

I firmly believe—the Minister referred to me in this respect—that we must reform our extradition legislation. I believe equally firmly that the Bill is the wrong reform. I have no problem with part 2, although I shall mention one or two minor concerns, but I have very serious problems with part 1, which was effectively demolished by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Indeed, one is tempted to leave it at that, say XIt's over to you" and ask the Minister to explain why those are not killer objections.

I came to this issue after 11 September when I discovered that some suspects who were wanted in the United States and France for terrorist offences had been in this country fighting extradition for a very long time. I raised the issue, referring to all the suspects, when the Prime Minister made his statement immediately after 11 September. There were four of them, but I was horrified to find on checking the matter at the end of last week that they are all still here. Three people are wanted

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for the African embassy bombings in August 1998 and are still here four years later. It took the courts a long time to deal with their cases, but the House of Lords dismissed all their appeals on 17 December last year. Nearly a year has passed, yet the Home Secretary has failed to decide whether to deport them. He can hardly blame the state of current legislation when he cannot make decisions in a year.

The case of Rachid Ramda has already been mentioned. He was arrested in November 1995 at the request of the French authorities for the Metro bombings in the summer of that year in which many people were killed. He managed to drag out the time before the case reached the House of Lords until May 1999—nearly four years after he was arrested. He dropped his appeal, and it was up to the Home Secretary to decide whether to remove him. It took the Home Secretary 29 months—nearly two and a half years—to make a decision. It has been reviewed by the divisional court and is back in the Home Secretary's hands. Rachid Ramda has therefore been here for seven years.

I raised the matter with the Prime Minister and said that it was a scandal. He replied that it was the law's fault. That is partly true. I agree that the law provides for far too many appeals and stages of the process. Part 2 goes a long way towards tackling that. However, the problem is also due to the courts being incredibly dilatory. I do not know how judges can look at themselves in the mirror when terrorist offences occur around the world and they know the obstacles that they unnecessarily place in the way of justice. People are entitled to a fair hearing but not to drag out proceedings for seven years. The Home Secretary should not blame the law or the courts when he has been dilatory in exercising his functions.

The courts can deal with such matters quickly. For example, the Pinochet case was heard three times in 15 months in the House of Lords. It is possible to do things quickly if there is enough political pressure to do so.

I agree that we need new legislation. We need to reduce the number of appeals and have a faster procedure for countries whose judicial systems we trust and respect. However, part 1 removes almost all the protections that have been constructed over many years. They include dual criminality and the Home Secretary's final discretion. Provisions for prima facie evidence have already gone. Those matters have been at the heart of our extradition law for a long time. That does not mean that they are bad. It has taken a long time to build up those freedoms in this country. I do not know Labour Members' view of history before May 1997, but we have a history of constructing individual freedoms against the power of Governments. We should not discard them lightly, as the Bill does.

I want to consider part 1, to which I have the greatest objections. The list of offences is vague. A law graduate who worked for the parliamentary draftsman and produced the list as proposed legislation would not survive the probation period. It is so vague that it defines nothing that would pass muster in our law. For example, what does participation in a criminal organisation mean? What is computer-related crime? The categories are too vague and too wide and are unacceptable.

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It is our job to protect our subjects' liberties unless a process of law deprives them of it; the Extradition Bill provides for such a process. Unless the offences and the process are clear, we do not honour our obligation. It is wrong simply to refer to the framework decision to justify such vague offences. Most of them exist in our law, and we could define them adequately. We could define racial hatred, although xenophobia does not exist. Some computer-related crimes are offences in our law. We should define them and let our citizens know when they are in danger. We should have clear law, not a vague list of offences that is imported from a framework directive.

Dr. Palmer: The choice is between listing categories of offence and individual offences. The hon. Gentleman implies that we should list every offence that might apply so that people know exactly where they stand. Does he not agree that the problem is that although we have a definition of racial hatred, it may be slightly different from, for example, that in Portugal? Does he suggest that we assemble a list of all possible crimes in every European Union country to which we might be prepared to apply the Bill?

Mr. Maples: The Bill removes the defence of dual criminality. If it continued to exist, I would not have a problem because the person whose extradition was sought could use the defence that the action was not criminal in both jurisdictions. However, that defence will no longer be available, so I believe that we should define the crimes more closely and carefully.

Angus Robertson (Moray): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful, for example, on racism and xenophobia, if the draft framework decision, which we recently considered in the European Scrutiny Committee, at least made it clear that

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