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25 Mar 2003 : Column 177—continued

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): I shall speak very briefly, because, like the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), I am not a lawyer and am rather proud of that fact. None the less, serving on the Standing Committee for a few sittings, which felt like many months, gave me a crash course in the law of England and Scotland, for which I am grateful.

1.45 pm

I should like to respond to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) with regard to Government amendment No. 43, which relates to the "balance of probabilities" in respect of a fugitive's identity. I understand why people are concerned about the case of Mr. Derek Bond, who was unjustly and unwisely held in South Africa for two weeks while the FBI carried out investigations, but I think that the public would be ill-served if we picked on that one specific and dramatic case as a reason for saying that the balance of probabilities should not be used in relation to the identity of a wanted person. The case was particularly unusual, and we as politicians must accept that, because of the intricate and sophisticated nature of intercontinental investigations, the identity of suspects occasionally cannot be verified and mistakes are made, but that does not necessarily mean that we will not pursue those investigations. We must remember that, in the case of Mr. Bond, to whom we all feel sympathetic, the true identity of the suspect was revealed after much investigation. I do not think that his case can be used as a reason for saying that we can give up on that specific type of inquiry by the FBI or any other international agencies.

On amendment No. 4, which is an Opposition amendment, asylum is a big issue in my constituency and those of many other hon. Members. If we accept the amendment, we will completely remove from the Bill all references to asylum. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath suggested, that does not mean that asylum would no longer be used as a way of delaying procedures. As I understand it, the deletion of clause 39 would ensure that there were no guidelines at all about whether and in what circumstances accused persons could apply for asylum. I have personal experience of people claiming asylum for all sorts of ill-chosen motives.

I would like to hear whether the hon. Gentleman accepts that the removal of clause 39 would create a far less specific and more vague asylum system. As the Bill

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would contain no specific reference to asylum, people on whom warrants were enforced would use every possible means, including asylum, to delay their extradition. Some people may accuse the Government of being a bit too harsh on asylum seekers by refusing to accept the amendment. I disagree. The Bill already contains a very specific measure that allows people to appeal against an asylum decision that goes against them, albeit that that appeal has to be made outside the country. I welcome that; in the circumstances, I think it is absolutely justified.

Amendment No. 18 is fantastic. I love it: only the Conservative party could have tabled an amendment saying that a British or English court can force these Johnny Foreigner courts to send someone home right away because we in this country do not think that they have met their obligations or that their legal system is quite up to the mark. When I read the amendment, I thought, "Only the Conservative party, God bless it, could come up with this sort of imperialist nonsense." The hon. Member for Surrey Heath mentioned that he had some reservations about the terrible bureaucracy in some foreign regimes. Once again—I would have laid money on this—he could not resist mentioning the plane spotters arrested in Greece, who were referred to many times every day in the Standing Committee. The idea that a British judge can decide that a foreign court is not quite up to speed and that we can demand that it sends a suspect back to Britain because we are not happy with its procedures is mind blowing. I hope that the Opposition will force that amendment to a vote, as it defines the philosophy of the modern Conservative party far more than many other things. It is the Ealing comedy amendment. Only in the late 1940s and early 1950s could people have taken such an amendment seriously.

Let us consider the serious point of reciprocity. Does the hon. Member for Surrey Heath believe that a French, German or Greek court should be allowed to tell a British court that its procedures are incorrect, and that it should send the relevant person back home for trial? I presume that the hon. Gentleman supports the principle of reciprocity and believes that that should be the effect of the amendment, in which case he would be more than happy with the consequences that I outlined. I salute him if that is his genuine conviction; the Conservative party would have turned a corner. However, the amendment is neither reasonable nor acceptable to the majority of people in this country.

My hon. Friend the Minister gave commitment after commitment in Committee, and made it clear that the Bill explicitly provides that no one will be extradited for anything other than a trial or a sentence. It was made clear many times that the Bill does not provide for extradition for investigation or interrogation. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to accept my hon. Friend's sincerity. He made the point clear many times. We spent day after day in Committee, with no doubt about the terms of the Bill. I ask the Opposition to accept that there is no need for amendment No. 18, except for comic relief.

For the first time in British legislation, a Bill makes a specific, explicit commitment to protect people from extradition for anything other than serving a sentence or facing trial. The Extradition Act 1989, which was passed under the Conservative Government, made no such

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distinction or commitment. For the first time, therefore, a Government are committed not to extradite for any reason apart from serving a sentence or facing a trial. I partly hope that the Opposition will press amendment No. 18 to a vote because I would enjoy voting against it. I hope, though, that they will consider it inappropriate.

Mr. George Howarth: I congratulate the Minister on the extent to which he listened to the debate in Committee and made appropriate adjustments to the Bill. Everyone accepts that he is going a long way—in some cases, further than some of us wanted.

I understand from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who opened the debate for the Opposition, that they intend to press amendment No. 20, but not amendment No. 18, to a vote. I am at a loss, because amendment No. 20 states:

Clause 2(3)(b) appears to cover all the anxieties that the Opposition expressed in Committee and today. When I intervened on the hon. Gentleman to point that out, he dismissed my comment and said that the Opposition would press the amendment anyway.

I wonder why, given that the Bill covers the hon. Gentleman's anxieties, he wants to include an additional provision that would have the same effect. The obvious conclusion is that he believes that the amendment would circumvent the European arrest warrant. At least, the Opposition want an opportunity to vote against the European arrest warrant. They would probably be happy with it if it were called a "common arrest warrant" or an "arrest warrant for co-operation between states". However, the magic word "Europe" means that they feel obliged to reject it.

I have not made those comments to poke fun at the Opposition because, by Labour party standards, I am reasonably Eurosceptical. However, a gulf exists between me and most Opposition Members, who appear to feel an obligation to vote against anything European.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): As the hon. Gentleman said, it is not clear whether amendment No. 20 will be pressed to a vote, but does he believe that it would alter the text of the Bill? One could argue that it would introduce legal clarity because it refers to

Mr. Howarth: If the hon. Lady wants greater clarification about what was in the minds of the Opposition, she should have intervened on the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. I have made it a firm principle in my political career never to answer for the Conservative party. I intend to stick to that rigidly.

The Opposition and the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) made serious points today and in Committee about specific cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) made it clear a few moments ago that it is generally wise to legislate not on specific cases but on general

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categories. Many hon. Members who are lawyers and are better versed than I am in these things could testify to that.

I want to revert to an example that was used in Committee because it involves a constituent. Today, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath mentioned the case of Derek Bond, which was heard after our Committee proceedings. He also recounted the case of the plane spotters in Greece. However, in Committee, the case of my constituent Kevan Sloane, who is currently serving a three-and-a-half year sentence in Tenerife, was cited. None of the people in the three cases had to return to this country and subsequently be extradited to the country where the offence was committed. Since my constituent has been mentioned, I want to make his position clear.

Kevan Sloane was arrested approximately two years ago, initially on five charges of armed robbery. By the time the case got to court, he faced two charges of armed robbery and he was eventually convicted of one. The standard of evidence required to convict him was poor. Two aspects were highly questionable.

First, my constituent was picked out in an identity parade by a shop assistant who worked in the shop where he had allegedly committed armed robbery. However, the woman had been shown a photograph of him before the identity parade.

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