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9 Dec 2002 : Column 102continued
Patrick Mercer (Newark): I am pleased to be called to speak, and am grateful for the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), who made his points clearly, if lengthily.
I was rather disappointed by the comments of the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas), who said that Conservative Members spoke purely and simply from a visceral dislike of anything European. That is a grave disservice to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), both of whose speeches were extremely cleverly formulated and, I like to think, were free of the tedious prejudice which, I admit, was often expressed by my party in the past.
Gareth Thomas: I was trying to make the point that some basic principles have come across clearly. Labour Members could not help but think that underpinning those principles was a fair amount of Euroscepticism which may reflect arguments going on in the Conservative party. That is all that I said.
I shall be as brief as I can in speaking about the background to the Bill. I wholly understand that something needs to be done about extradition. I largely support every part of the Bill, except part 1. If I contradict myself, I hope that the Minister will bear with me. Although I understand that the conditions that prevail after 11 September make the simplification of extradition necessary, I believe that tinkering with the current extradition rules is dangerous and liable to infringe freedom, and may aid and abet terrorists. I shall try to explain.
I do not know how familiar the House is with the French press. For several years, well before 11 September, the term XLondonistan" had been used frequently. What does it mean? The French particularly view London as the centre for international terrorism, with British laws allowing terrorists to prosper and act freely, and with the British police being singularly ineffective against them. I wholly rebut that. None the less, that opinion is gathering steam abroad.
The impact of terrorism has been keenly felt by America. That country was not used to terrorism in any shape or form before 11 September, at least not on home territory. The reaction of America to 11 September was measured, partly owing to the influence exerted by this country, because of our experience of terrorism and our laws which have dealt effectively with terrorism in the past. None the less, I ask right hon. and hon. Members to reflect on the fact that US allegations against a UK resident accused of involvement in a serious terrorist crime turned out to concern a minor misdemeanour once it was scrutinised. I suggest that terrorist violence turns the mind and can cant the judgment.
May I point out what has happened in Australia recently? It is probably fair to say that Australia was not expecting to be attacked as it was in Bali. To quote one or two comments from the Australian press, Australia is now ready for a much more hairy-chested foreign policy. That means that the judgment of countries such as Australia is likely to be skewed, and countries in Europe are likely to be subject to the same pressures.
If we take away the existing restrictions and protection, we probably end up doing the terrorists' job for them. Having fought terrorism for the best part of 25 years, I can say that it was always an article of faith that security forces acted with complete moral and legal rectitude in everything that they did. Britain has experience of terrorism and the maturity in its laws to deal with it. I am concerned that any alterations to the extradition laws may endanger that.
Furthermore, we have heard in recent weeks arguments from Labour Members about the risk of scaring the pants off the population by warning people about likely terrorist attacks. They have argued, cogently in some respects, that that does the terrorists' job for them. Any changes to our extradition laws will partially assist the terrorist in achieving his aims of bringing about a change in the law and a wholly different climate in which law-abiding nations work, and of dissolving the moral superiority with which so-called civilised nations deal with the problem.
I could deal in detail with one or two of the points that have been made, but frankly, they have been made with much greater clarity than I could ever make them. I also realise that time is short, so I shall conclude my remarks. I believe that part 2 will do the job, but part 1 infringes everything that this country's courts and law have stood for over the years. While I fully take the point made by hon. Members on both sides of the House and agree that times and circumstances are changing, I suggest to the Minister that now is the time for this country, which understands the problems of violence, terrorism and subornation of the legal process, to stand firm in what it believes, to continue to provide protection to people, and to stand, alone if necessary, but 100 per cent. behind the defence of the individual. Only by being 100 per cent. above corruption and completely correct can we hope to prove to our enemies that our cause is correct.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) made a point that was partly correct when he spoke about London and international terrorist organisations. The circumstances that he described may have existed in the past, but since we introduced the Terrorism Act 2000 and the post-11 September legislation, the situation has changed considerably.
I believe that the Bill is not only about terrorism, but about a range of issues of which terrorism is one. As the Minister said in introducing the Bill, current legislation is more than a century out of date. The measures introduced 12 or 13 years ago were consolidation measures. The reality is that current legislation dates from the Victorian and imperial age. Let us think back to that time. There were very few states in the world, a large swathe of which was coloured red.
Mike Gapes: Indeed. The reality of the situation today is that we have about 200 nation states, the United Nations, the International Labour Organisation and the World Trade Organisation, and a huge number of international covenants and treaties dealing with genocide, crimes against humanity, laws of war and many of the issues that are currently considered when we discuss the workings of the International Criminal Court. In those circumstances, it is absurd for extradition legislation to be based on a pre-modern agethe Victorian age and the age of empire. For those reasons, significant modernisation is well overdue.
There are also other reasons; for example, the current system does not work and allows the wealthy criminals and the criminal lawyers to benefit from their expenditure to avoid justice. I use the phrase Xcriminal lawyers" advisedly. Some people in the legal profession do well out of representing international criminals, drug dealers and people who are engaged in crimes in one country, live in another and have offshore assets in some bank account that is hard to get at.
We live in an age when people use the internet to commit crimes. They perpetrate sophisticated fraud on gullible and/or innocent people. Yet the international policing organisations are often unable to track them down. We have heard the debates about paedophilia, and we know that racist, Nazi groups use the internet. We also know that Nazi groups who operate in Germany are based in Denmark because they can easily get across to Schleswig-Holstein and smuggle in literature. Current Danish law does not allow them to be picked up or prosecuted because Denmark has an absolutist, free-speech approach, which some Conservative Members favour.
It is fortunate that this country has laws against incitement to racial hatred. We have the Public Order Act 1986, and other legislation, which is not enforced strictly enough against organisations that peddle race hate, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. I should like us,
Let me give a specific example. For many years, the people who carried out the bombing in Bologna in the 1980s lived in Brighton, and nothing was done about it. They were linked with far-right groups such as the League of St. George, and involved in fascist training camps, yet they lived in Brighton without anything being done about it. That is outrageous. I hope that a common European arrest warrant and provisions for a Government to ask for extradition would lead to a solution to such a problem.
We have experienced problems over the years that relate to Northern Ireland; for example, we had problems with the Irish Republic. I believe that they have been resolved since the Belfast agreement. Nevertheless, the Irish courts often refused to extradite. We experienced similar problems with the United States. For example, IRA fundraisers, people who were wanted for crimes, and even people who had escaped from prison could live in the USA because the courts would not extradite them to this country.
The Bill may not be a perfect solution, but it highlights a genuine problem that must be tackled. The way in which Conservative Members and Liberal Democrat Members in the House of Lords deal with the Bill when it emerges from this House will be interesting. The past two or three years have shown that the Conservative-Liberal alliance in the House of Lords can defeat the Labour Government, with their democratic majority, whenever it chooses. Labour has only 26 per cent. of the peers in the upper House. The Liberals and the Conservatives have ganged up on several Home Office measures in recent years. That presents more of a challenge to the Liberals than the Conservatives, because I expect the latter to use their normal approach in the House of Lords. However, the Liberals have to reconcile their pro-European stance with their libertarianism. Perhaps they will have a problem in deciding which side to choose; maybe they will sit on the fence.