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9 Dec 2002 : Column 84—continued

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: My hon. Friend will surely realise that while the offences in the framework document are

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generic offences, and such crimes are covered for the very reasons he has been giving—problems would be involved in doing anything else—when a Scottish judicial authority frames a warrant it will frame it in Scottish law. The offence will be very clear in Scottish law. It will meet the requirement in the framework document and the minimum sentencing requirement. When a warrant is received from a Danish or French judicial authority, the offence will again be spelled out clearly in Danish or French law. There will be no dubiety about the fact that an offence has been committed in one of those jurisdictions.

Dr. Palmer: That is a good point. We should not give the impression that people will be extradited on the basis of a vague warrant that says, XWe think he carried out some sabotage"; the warrant will be very specific.

Annabelle Ewing: The sheriff will not know what it means.

Dr. Palmer: At the risk of repeating myself, let me say that the hon. Lady will need to know what it means; otherwise she will be at risk when she travels today, regardless of the Bill.

Annabelle Ewing: Perhaps I did not make myself clear enough. It is of no concern to me whether an individual like me is aware of the criminal code in each EU state. The key point I was trying to make is that the court in Scotland would have to have an idea of what criminal conduct was being discussed. The Minister's response did not deal with that. Sabotage, for example, does not exist in Scots criminal law. With no guidelines on what is encompassed in that category, the sheriff—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Lady must be more concise in an intervention.

Dr. Palmer: I take the hon. Lady's point, but I think she is trying to smuggle in the idea that the Scottish, or the English, courts would have a second bite at the cherry and make an assessment of whether the crime had actually taken place. I think we must accept, when we are talking about extradition, that people are not tried at both ends. They are tried in the courts at the other end, under the law as defined at the other end.

What we are discussing is whether there are certain categories of offence that are so serious that they warrant going beyond the principle of the lowest common denominator—whether, even if we accept that the law differs slightly from country to country, it is reasonable for the country against which such offences have been committed to ask for the extradition of the suspect. As most Members have accepted, this is very much a dual facility: either we get it for ourselves, or no one gets it. If we are fanatical and say that we will not extradite anyone unless they have clearly committed a crime that is also a crime in Britain, we are accepting that the Spanish paedophile and everyone else who commits a crime in Britain that is not a crime at home can escape scot free. I question whether our constituents wish us to do that.

Several Members cited the plane spotters in Greece, asking how, if a constituent was one of them, we could justify the Greeks' entitlement to try them for the alleged

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offence. I think we would be on uneasy territory if we started discussing each individual case, but few Members would claim not to be able to find an example of a British court case with peculiar features, causing most to wonder why it had been brought. They say that hard cases make bad law. As most people would accept, we should not base the entire principle of mutual extradition within the European Union on the specific case of an unreasonable prosecution of a plane-spotter in Greece. If we do, we will be saying that if any country in the European Union sometimes brings a prosecution that we think unreasonable, as happens every month, if not every week, in Britain, we will not accept the principle of mutual extradition.

What is more, it is less purist than that. People say that they accept the principle of mutual extradition but that they want it to take a long time: they want it to cost #125,000, to take 18 months, to clog up our courts, to go to higher courts, to the Court of Appeal, to the House of Lords and to the Home Secretary. It is so important to them that we preserve the distinction and protect the rights of the Spanish paedophile and the English right-wing historian that they are willing to accept that as the price.

I doubt whether the average constituent who is not involved in a specific case would agree with that. Constituents who are involved in a specific case will always feel strongly that it is an outrage and should not happen. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is pointing at his watch. I do not know whether he has an urgent engagement but I have not noticed a great flood of Conservative Members seeking to speak. When they flood in, I shall take care to give them adequate time.

I raise some specific issues. I raised this one in European Standing Committee B: the impact of the internet on the entire process. Clause 63(2) on page 30 refers to the alleged crime occurring in a category 1 territory. If the offence is committed in Germany, as we have discussed, dual criminality may not be a necessary condition.

Let us say that I set up a website written in the German language, marketed for readers in Germany and run through an internet server in Britain, and that I never set foot in Germany. Will I be liable under clause 63(2) because the offence has been committed in a category 1 territory, namely Germany? The question is: is it my location, or the location of the supposed victim, the person who is forced to read, let us say, neo-Nazi propaganda, which would be illegal in Germany?

What would happen if I went to Germany and urged people to look at the website—if I did not when in Germany promote neo-Nazi views but encouraged people there to read my website? What if I gave interviews to the German media and said, XI have a website full of interesting things about Germany, and I urge you to read it," and then travelled back to Britain? Would I have committed an offence under German law? Would I have committed an offence on German territory? If I did not travel to Germany but placed an advertisement in the German media, would any offence have occurred in a category 1 territory?

The Minister may feel that I am making a fine point, but it is the sort of thing that will come up more and more as the internet becomes our main source of

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information. The entire category of crimes that consists of making inflammatory statements that are illegal in a number of countries will become the subject of intense legislative debate, and it would be helpful if the Minister at some stage during the proceedings on the Bill were to address that issue.

I do not wish to prevent all the Conservative Members who wish to speak from getting in, so I will bring my remarks gradually to a close. As has been pointed out, the opposition to this entire Bill is based on the underlying assumption that other courts cannot be trusted as much as ours. I do not say all other courts; I say some other courts.

We must make a decision. We must decide whether we are prepared to have a common legal framework for serious crimes to the extent that we will trust each other to prosecute them. If we are not prepared to have that common trust, we will be saying that people can be war criminals, or sex offenders, that they can commit a wide range of serious offences, and that if they slip through the net of the current system, we will accept it because we do not trust the Greeks—look at the plane spotters. It is not reasonable.

Angus Robertson: The Birmingham Six.

Dr. Palmer: The hon. Gentleman points to the Birmingham Six as an example. Every country has examples of miscarriages of justices. That is not a reason not to prosecute. It is a reason to prosecute carefully. Either we accept that the other countries are worthy of respect in this case, or we do not.

Those hon. Members who say that we should not respect the other countries' courts are often the hon. Members who do not respect other aspects of the other countries in the European Union, who say that they cannot be trusted to follow the rules of the European Union, and who say that they wonder whether we should be members of the European Union at all, given that the others are so unreliable.

Angus Robertson: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that many hon. Members may agree with the sentiments that he has expressed but will not be prepared to vote for a Bill that does not have what we consider adequate safeguards?

Dr. Palmer: I accept that. I am not claiming that anyone who disagrees is a Europhobe. I am saying that there is a tendency here: that some hon. Members are opposed to the Bill because they instinctively mistrust a number of foreign jurisdictions; and that that reflects a wider mistrust of foreign communities in general. That is an area where the Government have made a difference compared with previous Governments. When we say that we are willing to engage with Europe, we mean that we are willing to discuss with our European partners what a reasonable joint basis is and to proceed on the basis of mutual trust. Sometimes it may go wrong. Sometimes—often, I believe—it will produce more justice than we have at the moment. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

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