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25 Mar 2003 : Column 187—continued

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I do not want to pre-empt my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), but the Minister might like to ask any one of the Labour members of the Select Committee who voted for the report and in favour of a specific clause that was similar to the new clause. It would give the Home Secretary a backstop power, in cases in which the crime in question was not an offence in the UK, to do precisely what the new clause suggests.

Mr. Ainsworth: Members of the Select Committee must speak for themselves, but I am not sure that they were seeking to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I can speak only to the new clause tabled by Opposition Members. I would be interested to hear—I did not hear it in the hon. Gentleman's intervention—how the Secretary of State is to decide whether the decision, say, of a French magistrate, to request extradition was proper. I may have gone to a different school from the hon. Gentleman's, but I do not see how he could get his head around that problem. Even if he could, any decision taken would be subject to judicial review and we would be left with appeals and delays—precisely what we are trying to avoid.

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If people from another EU country came here and broke our law, would we expect that country to put them on trial? The fact that the conduct in question was not contrary to the law of their home country would be no excuse. How would we feel about a French Minister deciding whether our request was proper? I ask Opposition Members to view the problem in reverse perspective and think more about the consequences of what they are proposing.

The second limb of new clause 9 requires the Secretary of State to produce an annual report on the operation of the legislation. We do not believe that the Home Secretary should perform the role conferred on him by the Opposition in this new clause; nor do we see any need for an annual report. Home Office Ministers are answerable to Parliament and have to answer questions on the operation of extradition and other legislation—including details of the number of cases and the average time taken to process them. I see no reason for a formal annual report. No such requirement obtains in existing legislation and I see no reason to move in that direction.

Amendment No. 5 is designed to limit the removal of dual criminality to offences attracting a three-year sentence, rather than a one-year sentence, as the Bill currently provides. The basic threshold for extradition that has operated for many years is set at 12 months, and we do not believe that it would be sensible to set a different threshold for the application of the dual criminality role. To do so would be a recipe for confusion. More than that, if hon. Gentlemen take the view that dual criminality is so important and necessary to prevent injustice when dealing with requests from another EU country—not a view that the Government share—why should that safeguard apply only to offences attracting a penalty of between one and three years, but not to more serious offences for which the person concerned potentially faces a longer period in prison? It would be illogical to impose a dual criminality requirement at the lower end of the offence scale, but not to impose such a requirement at the upper end.

Secondly, I do not see why the UK's approach, in giving effect to European Union instruments, should always be characterised by doing the bare minimum necessary to comply, but I doubt whether many Opposition Members would agree. We have led on mutual recognition and we should seek to set an example to others. Several UK offences have no parallel in other European states, so there would be clear advantages for the UK and for the victims of crime here if other EU member states chose to go beyond the framework decision in respect of dual criminality.

I shall now deal with Liberal Democrat new clause 19 and consequential amendment No. 91, which would add a further specific bar to extradition. I support the motives behind the amendments: we should not countenance extradition in circumstances in which it would be unjust or oppressive because the accusation has not been made in good faith. However, the Bill requires no such enhancement. The bars already included in part 2, under clause 78, cover double jeopardy, extraneous considerations, passage of time and hostage taking. It is important also to remember that the whole Bill has the protections of the European convention on human rights firmly enshrined in it.

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Clause 80, "Extraneous considerations", specifically covers where the request has been made for the purpose of punishing the person on the grounds of

Extradition is barred if a person would be prejudiced at trial or have his liberty restricted for any of those reasons. I do not believe that any additional requirement is necessary, and there is a risk that the amendments would be counterproductive. Their language is so subjective that they would present fugitives with a golden opportunity to block and frustrate the extradition process by creating additional grounds for appeal.

I am sorry for taking the House's time, but I wanted to cover all the amendments in this group. I hope that Opposition Members will be prepared to withdraw the new clauses and amendments in their names.

2.30 pm

Mr. Hawkins: This substantial group of amendments is not quite as large as the previous group. I want to deal first with the Government new clauses. It is a measure of the lack of enthusiasm for the Bill among Labour Members, especially those who belong to the Labour-dominated Home Affairs Committee, that the Minister has no one behind him on the Government Benches apart from his Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Government new clause 11, and the linked Government amendment No. 45, amount to a significant concession. We welcome the Government's agreement to insert in part 1 of the Bill a "passage of time" bar to extradition, as proposed in my amendment No. 23. That is very similar to what the Government have proposed for part 2 cases.

In Standing Committee, I explained how clients of expert extradition solicitors such as Victor, Lissack and Roscoe had suffered injustice as a result of the huge delays in other countries' legal systems. We welcome the Government's concession, and I welcome what the Minister has said today. The Government's proposal in response to the Opposition's new clause 8 and amendment No. 23, which were tabled before the Bill reached the present Report stage, and therefore before the Government concession was announced. We are of course delighted that the Government have been converted to our point of view, if a little on the late side.

The Bill should not be retrospective. New clause 2 was not selected for debate, but we hope that the other place will reconsider the issue of retrospection.

Our new clause 5 deals with unconscionable delay. We hope that the Government will continue to consider, in another place and more generally, whether that new clause's wording would be of additional assistance to clarify matters further, given the bad experience that expert extradition lawyers have had.

We also hope that a de minimis provision will be inserted in the Bill in another place and, although new clause 7 was not selected for debate, that trivial matters will be excluded from the Bill.

New clause 9 deals with the referral of part 1 warrants to the Secretary of State. It is an important matter, and I can tell the Minister that, if necessary, we will press it to a vote. We have made it clear repeatedly that one of the Opposition's main objections to the new European

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arrest warrant machinery, and to the framework list that the Government have signed up to, is that many offences are listed that are not offences under UK law. Some, such as xenophobia and computer-related crime, are vague and undefined.

The prospect is that UK citizens could be arrested here, at the request of a foreign authority, and shipped off abroad. They would not have the right to ask a UK court to test the matter. That is especially important in connection with undefined and vague categories such as xenophobia, and catch-all categories such as computer-related crime.

New clause 9 would introduce the safeguard that the matter would have to be brought back to the Secretary of State, and that Parliament would receive an annual report. That would mean that there would be clear parliamentary scrutiny. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) made a well judged intervention on the Minister a few minutes ago when he made the point that the Labour-dominated Home Affairs Committee had called for just such a backstop. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that the new clause is not necessary and to ask how the Secretary of State would exercise the powers.

We in this House are familiar with legislation that give Secretaries of State backstop powers. Given what the present Home Secretary has said about judges—the right hon. Gentleman claims that they do not operate legislation in the way that he intended, and says that judges should take note of what Parliament intended—I should have thought that he of all people would recognise that he needs the long-stop that a reserve power represents. Opposition Members strongly believe that there should be a regular report to Parliament, so that the massive change that the Government are introducing can be checked on annually by Parliament.

Given the Home Secretary's very public anger about the way in which judges have stopped him doing what he wants, we hope that a scrutiny power for the Home Secretary will find favour. If the Minister is not empowered to say as much today, we hope that the debate in another place will force the Government to think again and give UK citizens the protection that they need.

I stress that it would be even better if all cases could be looked at by a UK court before a British citizen is extradited for something that is not a crime in UK law. That is especially important after some of the issues raised by the Pinochet case. The danger is that another state could seek the extradition of Ministers—in the current Government, or in past or future Governments—in the same way as a Spanish magistrate sought to extradite Pinochet. Ministers may need to consider that possibility in connection with the current action in Iraq, or in connection with other international decisions. Reference was made in Committee to the concern about decisions made with regard to the bombing in Kosovo. Some people outside the House said that the decision was not an appropriate one for Ministers to take.

The Minister must accept that the issue is serious. There is no doubt that it will be examined in another place. It cannot be dismissed.

New clause 19, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, offers another sort of safeguard in these matters. Although our new clause 6 was not selected for debate,

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the issue remains important. I am sure that many people in another place with senior experience in government or in the law will share our concerns. We understand what the Liberal Democrats are doing with new clause 19, and in general we share their concerns. New clause 19 could be a helpful further safeguard. In the future, if a far-left or fundamentalist Government were to take power in Turkey, say—if it was an EU member by then—or in Italy, and if that Government were to seek the extradition of the UK Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary of the day, Conservative Members would be able to say that we warned the Government that that could happen. They would be able to say that it was because the present Home Secretary failed to introduce a political reasons exception to this Bill, as recommended on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). The Bill needs a reserve power so that a future Home Secretary can have a fall-back position that will allow him to decide that extradition is not appropriate in certain cases.

We do not agree with the list of offences to which the Government signed up in the framework decision, but we entirely understand the view put forward by the Chairman of the Select Committee, who is not able to be with us at present. He proposed an amendment that would have put the whole list on the face of the Bill. The Opposition might have proposed that ourselves if the list had been better, but our concern about the nature of some offences on the list means that that would not have been appropriate. However, the principle remains, and we shall come back to it in connection with a later group of amendments.

Government amendment No. 47 is a technical amendment on double jeopardy, as the Minister made clear. It mirrors clause 14 and takes account of the possibility that the conduct complained of may not constitute a criminal offence in the UK. The Minister has made it clear that the Government acknowledge that possibility.

Government amendments Nos. 49, 51, 52 and 74 represent a significant concession to the opinions expressed by us and by the Liberal Democrats in Committee, and by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, in relation to speciality waiver and re-extradition. We do not want other countries to able to assume that they have the UK's consent. I welcome the Government's concession, although it was clear from the Minister's letter to me that it was made somewhat reluctantly. I will not go so far as to say that it was made grudgingly, but it was not made as willingly as some of the others.

Amendment No. 5, to which I am delighted that the hon. Members for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) have added their names, would reintroduce the protection for which the Home Affairs Committee also called—namely, that the offences covered in clause 63 should be only those carrying three years' imprisonment, not 12 months. I remind the Minister that the Labour-dominated Home Affairs Committee used very strong language about that. It said:

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It went on to say:

Amendment No. 91, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, seeks to introduce an "injustice and oppression" safeguard. We do not disagree with that, although it may not go as far as our suggestion of a political reasons safeguard.

Although I have tried to be brief in summarising our responses to these matters and in speaking to our new clause, I should stress that my brevity does not suggest any lack of enthusiasm. These are important issues that will be taken seriously in another place, and I shall certainly want to press the new clause to division.

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