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9 Dec 2002 : Column 94—continued

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: May I point out to my hon. Friend that this is not a case of gold plating? Although the requirement for dual criminality has been removed from offences on the generic list, a directly comparable offence will be found in the two jurisdictions in the overwhelming majority of such cases. By ending the requirement for dual criminality, we will prevent endless legal argument about whether there is an exact replica of the alleged criminality in another state. So to move from one year to three years would represent a considerable weakening of our current, long-standing extradition arrangements with our European partners.

Gareth Thomas: I understand what the Minister says, perhaps as well as his point about the inherent delay in the present system, where a nit-picking analysis of what is and what is not a criminal offence in one country or another can take place. However, with the greatest respect, my hon. Friend has not dealt with the fact that the Government have subscribed to the framework document, which refers to a three-year imprisonment

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threshold for the European arrest warrant to bite. Why do the Government therefore feel it necessary to go over and beyond that protection? The Home Affairs Committee was correct to say that that decision seemed somewhat extraordinary.

Mr. Ainsworth: The simple reason is that our current extradition law refers to 12 months, not three years, so we cannot possibly be gold plating the framework decision. That decision is drafted to encompass only far more serious crimes than our current, long-standing extradition arrangements carry.

Gareth Thomas: With the greatest respect, our current extradition law does not operate in the context of an all-embracing fast-track system, which will apply to category 1 offences. To create that sort of category is a drastic, but necessary step, although it should be counterbalanced by certain protections.

Mr. Burnett: Will the hon. Gentleman lead us on to the further protections that we may lose? Will he say a few words about speciality?

Gareth Thomas: I may get on to that subject, but I repeat that the Government should look again at lowering the threshold from three years to 12 months. I accept the Minister's comment that, as a matter of common sense, we have conventionally operated a 12-month limit because we think that offences that carry a sentence of no less than 12 months are probably sufficiently serious to justify the extradition process. However, we shall operate in different territory if the Bill becomes law and, with respect, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South and others make a strong point when they say that, if we are to go down the route of the European framework, we should at least apply the protections that are in it and adhere to the three-year threshold.

Mr. Cameron rose—

Gareth Thomas: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cameron: I thought that the hon. Gentleman had finished.

Gareth Thomas: I was about to deal with the question of scrutiny as regards the categories of country that can take advantage of the fast-track procedure. Again, I ask the Minister to refer specifically to that issue because it leads on from my reservations. Yes, the new systems are required, but there must countervailing checks and balances. There is a case for Parliament having an opportunity to debate whether countries should be added to that list.

I shall conclude because other hon. Members may be anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I welcome the Bill—it is a recognition of changing times and realities—but it is capable of being improved, and I earnestly ask the Government to consider the points that I have made with a view to providing some countervailing checks and balances.

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8.17 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): One of the great advantages of being called relatively low down the batting order is that many of the important points have already been made and one therefore has the luxury of being brief. I am sure that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) excuses himself from not having made use of that luxury on the grounds that he was not present for the opening speeches, but I am afraid that that excuse is not available to the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas). How he managed to work the Spartans into this debate is a matter of great ingenuity. To be fair to him, his points were well made, although he took rather long in getting round to them.

My constituency is not inundated, as are some hon. Members' constituencies, by the problem of asylum seekers and refugees. In that respect, my constituency is well favoured, but asylum seekers have come to my surgeries—I can think of a couple of cases in the past year—in an attempt to enlist my support for their case. I openly admit that I have sat there with a certain amount of preconceived prejudice, and I have judged the implausibility of the case that is put before me. It is right and proper, therefore, that my prejudice should have nothing to do with the case, which will be properly determined by a tribunal that will examine the prima facie case.

What strikes me as extraordinary is that, while we are labouring under the huge number of asylum seekers and the system that attempts to be fair to them and give them a fair hearing, the Government are introducing a measure that will remove the proper procedures and throw people out of this kingdom to be dealt with by courts elsewhere. That is absolutely grotesque.

Mike Gapes: I fail to see the connection between asylum seekers and people being extradited for crimes. Is the hon. Gentleman implying that asylum seekers are somehow responsible for crimes?

Mr. Swayne: No, I was merely juxtaposing that with what I regard as the ridiculous nature of this measure. Clearly, I made a mistake in giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

Labour Members—and one Opposition Member—have displayed squeamishness throughout this debate, which was clearly unjustified. In expressing their support for this measure, they have said that it must not be applied wherever capital punishment might be the consequence of extradition. They are not being just to the arguments. When the Minister replied to my question about the case of the tourists who were plane spotting in Greece, he said that we cannot have citizens of our country travelling the world, breaking laws, and coming back here expecting to get away with impunity. Sauce for the goose, however, is sauce for the gander. If people are prepared to go to other parts of the world and break the law, surely they should have some mind of the penalty for those crimes. In trying to draw a distinction in respect of countries where capital punishment exists, hon. Members undermine the whole argument for the general principle that they have espoused.

The Minister went further in his reply and said that we cannot have people from this country going across Europe and breaking the law. He exhibited precisely the

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same prejudice to which I admitted when listening to what I considered to be the implausible arguments of an asylum seeker explaining his case. One cannot make the presumption that people have gone abroad and broken the law—a proper procedure exists for courts in this country to decide whether the law has been broken. This measure attempts to do away with that, or to go further in doing away with it than we have already gone.

I now come to the heart of this abominable Bill.

Mr. Ainsworth: If a British driver were found guilty of dangerous driving in France, would that not be a matter of concern for people in this country? The hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that it is not a matter of concern, that we should concern ourselves only with dangerous driving that occurs in this country, and that whatever occurs abroad is nothing to do with us.

Mr. Swayne: The hon. Gentleman mistakes me, and it is my fault. I was speaking of the reply of the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety to my intervention. As the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue, however, I accept entirely that if there is a case to answer for a crime that is also a crime in this country, it is proper that extradition should take place. What I reject utterly is the proposal that we should extradite for crimes that do not exist in this country—clearly, the crime of dangerous driving does exist in this country, and I would have absolutely no objection to such an extradition when a prima facie case was made.

I return to the rotten heart of this Bill. The reality is that we are elected to this legislature to determine the laws of this country—what constitutes criminal behaviour, and for what offences our constituents should be sent to prison or extradited. The Bill takes that decision from this legislature and hands it to the Council of Ministers, who will decide for what crimes people will be extradited from this country.

Angus Robertson: I would like to raise a point that has not reared its head in the debate so far. In relation to decisions being made in the Council of Ministers, has the hon. Gentleman considered the fact that the Scottish Minister for Justice, a Liberal Democrat, has managed to miss 15 of the last 19 Council of Ministers meetings? What kind of guarantee is that in terms of the guarantees of Scots law?

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