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25 Mar 2003 : Column 173—continued

Mr. Bercow: I am not a lawyer—I say that as a matter of pride, although I have never held it against my hon. Friend that he is. With reference to the extensive and as yet unamended scope of the European arrest warrant, what assessment has he made of the compatibility of the Government's intended policy with the content of the subsidiarity and proportionality protocol of the treaty of Amsterdam?

Mr. Hawkins: We have many concerns about the European arrest warrant. We do not think that it is proportional, and the Government were wrong to sign up to the framework decision before these matters were debated in Parliament. My hon. Friend is therefore on to something. However, we have to recognise—I hope that the Minister will bear this serious point in mind—that when talking about what should be the appropriate standard of proof we are talking about the lesser of two evils. I am sure that in another place those who are very learned in the law will return to this point, but I accept the choice that the Government made for the reasons set out by the Minister today, in Committee and in correspondence. However, he, in turn, will accept that this is a serious matter and that there can be two different views on which is the lesser of two evils. I therefore hope that he and those who work with him will keep that under review when the Bill goes to another place.

1.30 pm

Government amendments Nos. 42, 59 and 62, which are linked, represent a welcome concession to a point that we raised in Committee—it was also raised by the Select Committee on Home Affairs—that the district judge should ensure that the person arrested is shown the warrant that is the basis for that person's arrest.

Amendment No. 4 seeks to leave out clause 39. I stress to the Minister, who was expressing some puzzlement about where we were coming from, that we wanted to probe to ensure that we would be able on Report to examine the problem of someone who may claim to be seeking asylum. The Minister has said that he wants there to be a fall-back position where the Secretary of State can say, "This is clearly a bogus claim." We were saying that always, in every case, the matter of whether someone should be extradited—we are talking in many cases about potential terrorists and serious criminals—should be gone through first, and that no delays should be injected into the system by way of somebody submitting an asylum case.

Colleagues who served in Committee, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, were extremely concerned about the delays that the pre-

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existing system has injected. We know that one of the ways in which so many people who might properly be extradited have delayed the process in the past has been by claiming asylum. I see the Minister nodding his assent to that. That is what we were getting at. I hope that the Minister will keep this serious issue under review. All Members of all parties in the House know that there is great concern throughout the United Kingdom about bogus asylum seekers and about the number who disappear into the black economy, where the Government have no way of finding them, or deporting those who may be a threat to our security and have no right to be here.

We do not want another category being created of those who should be deported because they should be extradited to face charges elsewhere delaying matters by claiming asylum. The misuse of our legal system by a man called Rachid Ramda was referred to extensively by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. The French authorities wanted him extradited from the UK to face very serious charges to do with the bombing of the Paris metro. I have heard what the Minister has said, but I hope in responding to the debate he will confirm that he and those who advise him will keep this serious matter under review.

I hope that by tabling the amendment we will avoid the tendency of the Minister, the Home Secretary and, indeed, the Prime Minister to misdescribe the Opposition's position, wrongly accusing us of being soft or stopping the Government being tough when we have raised concerns about their legislation. It is clear that we are trying to persuade the Government to toughen up their proposals and to close loopholes. We hope that they will understand our point of view and where we are coming from, and will not seek to misrepresent our position in future debates or in another place.

Government amendments Nos. 50, 67 and 69, which are linked, are welcome concessions to points that we raised in Committee. It is vital that a person considering giving consent to extradition must have had an opportunity to obtain independent legal advice first before consenting. The Minister says that he has thought about that and is prepared to accept that we were correct on that matter in Committee. I am glad that the Government have listened to us and to concerns expressed from many other sources and have made the concessions.

Amendment No. 92 has been tabled by the Liberal Democrats. I agree with the Minister that it is perhaps a minor matter that does not add very much, but no doubt the Liberal Democrats will speak to their amendment.

Government amendments Nos. 53 to 56 and 70 to 73, which are linked, bring terminology in line with the Courts Bill. The Minister said that he would not spend much time on these amendments unless someone asked him to do so. However, when he responds to the debate, I would ask him to cover one particular point. The Courts Bill, of course, is not yet law. It has had what I think could accurately be described as a rocky passage in another place. I suspect that that passage will continue when the proposed legislation comes to this place. More and more Labour Back-Bench Members have been lobbied—I watched that happen as recently as last week—by angry lay magistrates, who are furious at the Government's broken promises over the Courts Bill.

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I hope that the Government realise that they should not assume in trying to amend this Bill to fit in with the Courts Bill that the Courts Bill will get through Parliament in its current form. We drew attention in Committee to the Government's lack of joined-up government—a phrase that they often use—with yet another measure in their huge raft of Home Office Bills, which is the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill, which has also begun its passage in another place. We sought to put a line in that Bill and also in the Bill that is before us to suggest that the two measures needed to be co-ordinated. The Government resisted that approach in Committee and the issue was not selected for debate today. I hope that the Government, having said that the Bill needs to fit in with the Courts Bill, will not forget the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill.

Government amendments Nos. 65 and 66 are, again, a Government concession, dealing with evidence in summary form. They seek to deal with concerns that we and the Home Affairs Committee expressed. The Government are removing "must" in clause 83 and replacing it with "may", to make it clear that a judge does not have to accept evidence where the provenance or credibility of that evidence is in doubt. We welcome that concession to the important points that we made in Committee.

Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 93 and 94 are on the same point. They seek to delete parts of clauses 83 and 85, and also go to the issue of "must".

Government amendments Nos. 14 and 6, which are linked, are technical Scottish amendments. They make it clear that Scottish Ministers exercise functions only when the fugitive is in Scotland.

Government amendments Nos. 76, 77 and 11 are technical amendments that relate to who the appropriate judge is when a case is deferred after a competing request has been submitted. We have no problem with that.

Government amendments Nos. 12 and 13 deal with Scottish legal terminology. I remember the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) telling us in Committee about acts of adjournal, and about appeals being abandoned, not discontinued, in Scotland. We are glad that the Government have listened to Scots lawyers on these points. There are further Scottish issues that we will come to when dealing with another group of amendments. Having put forward the amendments on which we feel strongly, that is all that I need to say about this group of amendments.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): As a lead into this group of amendments, we have always accepted for category 1 countries mutual recognition. We understand that. However, we do not believe that there should be mutual recognition without safeguards. It is imperative that there are safeguards.

I welcome some of the amendments that the Government have introduced, which have been referred to by both the Minister and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), which contain safeguards in relation to matters that especially concerned us. I refer particularly to specialty, and the new clause that relates

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to the death penalty. No country that still imposes the death penalty should be within category 1. That is clear from the Government's amendment.

I am glad that the Government have decided to make the appropriate Scottish amendments following the arguments that were advanced in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael).

We had a great deal of help from the Select Committee on Home Affairs during consideration of the Bill in Committee. The Minister has made a number of concessions in relation to matters that were raised not only by the Home Affairs Committee but also by the Standing Committee. The Minister has said that he has made it clear that there was no intention to designate anyone other than United Kingdom enforcement personnel as an "appropriate person", and we welcome the clauses that make it clear that only constables, officers of Customs and Excise and armed forces police officers will be able to execute the European arrest warrant.

There were further important discussions on judicial authority and its definition. Government amendments Nos. 35 to 37 make it clear that the warrant will be acceptable only if it has been issued by judicial authority. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath mentioned his concerns about the transitional provisions, which I share. In the other place, there will be opportunities for further probing and discussion of those arrangements. Our amendments seek to tighten up the procedure, and I shall advert to them shortly.

In particular, I am pleased in connection with the definition of the standard proof in determining a fugitive's identity. That will also be considered in the other place, with regard to whether a balance of probabilities is the right basis for a judgment or whether the matter should be beyond all reasonable doubt. The Minister made the point that extradition is not prosecution, which I accept.

I should like now to deal with the Liberal Democrat amendments. We tabled amendment No. 92, which seeks to amend clause 65, because we believe that the designated authority must be satisfied that the authority issuing the warrant in the category 1 country has that function. That must be clear beyond all reasonable doubt. The warrant should not be issued by anybody other than that authority and the judge must be satisfied that that is the case. The amendment would provide an additional safeguard and I look forward to hearing the Minister's view about it.

Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 seek to amend clauses 83 and 85. They are similar amendments that seek to strike out subsections with exactly the same wording:

Although this matter might sound arcane, those are very important points. A summary is not good enough. A judge must see the evidence itself. A summary by someone other than the person in question is almost hearsay about hearsay. We must have what the person actually said and not what someone else believes they said. There is room for huge error and abuse in this matter. I believe that the Minister said that there was no

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way that a defendant could be prevented from giving evidence in person, but we must face the fact that the defendant will not be present to do so in all such cases.

As I said, we have made progress with the Bill and the Government have made concessions, which is welcome. Nevertheless, for reasons that we will explore later, not least the fact that we have not been satisfied about minimum standards of justice in all putative category 1 countries and about the nebulousness of the 32 offences set out in the Bill—a matter that we will have a chance to discuss later—we must have safeguards in the light of the shortcomings that exist. It is our job today, just as it will be the job of Members of the other place, to tighten up the Bill to ensure that there are no miscarriages of justice and that justice and fairness prevail in respect of our country.

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