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9 Dec 2002 : Column 88continued
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer). I congratulate him on speaking for more than half an hour. I oppose the European extradition warrant because it is a bad law founded on a good principle that has been wildly misapplied by our masters in the European Union who have agreed the warrant. That is the principle, to which the Minister alluded, of mutual recognition.
Fans and amateurs of the European Union, such as me and the hon. Member for Broxtowe, who spoke at such great length, know that the principle of mutual recognition has brought many benefits to the people of the European Community. The principle arose from a famous casethe Cassis de Dijon caseand I hope that hon. Members who are waiting to speak will forgive me for briefly reminding those who have forgotten about it.
In Dijon, a vendor of Cassis de Dijon, a substance used to transform Kir into Kir Royale, had difficulties selling his product to Germany, and he went all the way to the European Court of Justice, which is the supreme judicial body on our continent for the European Union. It decided that what was good for Dijon should be good for Germany, and that there should be a principle of mutual recognition of standards.
From that, of course, flowed all the benefits of the single market. For example, Labour Members could, if they so choseI hope that, in due course, they willtake up alternative careers as dentists in Belgium or taxi drivers in Greece. That is the triumph of the single market, which was of course promulgated and pushed forward by great Europeans such as Lord Cockfield and Mrs. Thatcher.
It must be said that that principle cannot be universally and successfully applied. Hon. Members who have travelled to the continent will know that, in spite of 30 years of EU membership and working away solidly at the principle of mutual recognition, it is not yet possible to plug in one's toaster in Franceshould one bring it from Britainand nor is it possible to use a British video recorder. Another example of the failure of the principle of mutual recognition can be found in road safety. It would be unwise if the European Union were to apply the principle to driving on the left-hand side of the road. It would lead to many fatal accidents if Ministers were to turn up in France and try to drive on the right. The principle of mutual recognition cannot be excessively applied because it does not cohere with what happens in the real world.
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman touches on a real point, which I should have thought was an advertisement for the principle of mutual recognition. He is right that we cannot have a European system of law that applies to the rule of the road, because some drive on the right and others on the left. However, surely we can have mutual recognition so that, when somebody is accused of dangerous driving and potentially killing someone in France, that penalty can be taken into consideration in Britain so that they are not liable to do the same thing here. Surely the hon.
Mr. Johnson: The Minister is groping towards the essence of the problem, which is that mutual recognition can only go so far. It does not work in the sphere of road traffic, because trying to drive on the left-hand side of the road in France would prove catastrophic, and it does not work in the criminal justice system. It is eccentric, dangerous and profoundly undemocratic to apply that principle to this very delicate area of law. There is simply no reason to do it. The only possible outcome of abolishing the principle of dual criminality is the creation of a single legal regime that does not have the sanction and authority of this House. It is particularly worrying
Mr. Johnson: The hon. Gentleman's point is so frivolous as to not be worth answering. It is perfectly obvious that mutual recognition is not applicable in the sphere of driving or in the criminal justice system. As he himself said, very different approaches to the law exist. It is particularly worrying that British citizens could face immediate and unchallengeable extradition for offences that may carry as little as 12 months' imprisonment in the extraditing country.
The problem is not just that the list of 32 offences is inchoate and vague but that this House has had no say in the drawing up of the laws that fall under those categories. As has been said repeatedly, it is therefore possible for a British citizen to be extradited for conduct that has not been criminalised in this country. Worst of all, it is particularly intolerable that this House will have no control over any future legislation that may fall under any of these vague categories, and which may be drawn up by any member state in any contracting country.
I shall not delay the House with examples of cases where our law does not criminalise activities illegal in other countries. The point about the plane spotters has already been well made. I thought it generous of the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety to concede in advance that, under this EU extradition warrant, those people would have been sent back to Greece immediately, had they been in Britain. That rather kicked the legs out from under his position, and it infused the contributions of most Labour Back Benchers, with the exception of the hon. Member for Broxtowe. The point about xenophobia has also already been well made.
Mr. Johnson: I understand the position, and I am grateful to the Minister for trying to save his right hon. Friend from the very difficult position in which he put the Government. However, I think that he will find that, under the current dispensation, it remains at least within the power of the Home Secretary to vary such a decision by not extraditing on the spur of the momentas this EU extradition warrant envisagesa bunch of poor tourists who fall foul of the Greek authorities.
I shall not labour the point, but I want to make one other that occurred to me during the debate. It relates to a particular category of difficulty that many Members will have noticed in their postbags: the different approaches in EU countries to the law of custody of children. I can well imagine that Germany, for instance, might take a very different view of what constitutes illegal restraintas it is described in the 32 new categoriesfrom that taken by our courts. British mothers of children with a German father who brought those children to England might well fall foul of the German courts, and could be extradited to Germany for something that is not a crime in this country. I mention that as merely one example of the dangers inherent in the abolition of the principle of dual criminality, and of the establishment of mutual recognition of criminal law.
What is the benefit of the proposed change? The Government have proposed only one serious benefit: once in a blue moon, it might be possible to snare a tax avoider who absconded to Luxembourg. More or less, that was the only good argument that I heard. That is a pitiful and petty objective. If that is all that we hope to achieve by giving away the legal certainty of people in this country, that is a shameful thing. It is wrong to do away with the principle that the criminal laws by which people in this country can be held to account should at least be consistent with the laws passed by the Parliament of this country. If Ministers want a law against xenophobia, they are perfectly entitled to draw one up and bring it to Parliament to see whether we will pass it but that cannot happen without the approval of Parliament.
I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Broxtowe about paedophilia, although I thought that he elided his example. Consenting sexual relations in Spain became, in his mind, paedophilia. If the Spanish want to change the law on consenting sexual relations and to raise the age of consent, that is a matter for them and not for this House.
Dr. Palmer: In contrast to my previous intervention, I want to make a serious point. It seems to me that it is a matter of serious concern in Britain if visitors from another country believe that they can safely have sexual relations with children aged 12 because it is legal in their
Mr. Johnson: If the hon. Gentleman accurately represents the position in SpainI have no independent knowledge of it and should be grateful for elucidation afterwardshe has a fair point. In that respect, what takes place in Spain is clearly a matter of interest to us. However, to do away with the legal certainty of people in this country that they will be governed exclusively by the laws of this country, passed in this House, for the sake of the elusive prize of capturing one so-called paedophile or someone who has sexual relations with a person aged 12 and over is, I think, very wrong.
It is plain what needs to be done. We need to insist on the principle of dual criminality or to do as the Home Affairs Committee has suggested and Members on both sides of the House have proposed: we should leave it to the power of the district judge. If he decides that dual criminality does not apply in a particular case, he will give the case to the Home Secretary to decide whether the extradition may go ahead. That at least would provide the procedure with the fig leaf of democratic accountabilityanything else would undermine confidence in justice and in our democratic system.