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25 Mar 2003 : Column 199—continued

Mr. Burnett: Extradited.

Mr. Johnson: No, not extradited. That sausage must be legally bought and consumed in Germany. The rule of mutual recognition says that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if we in this country say that the sausage is perfectly good for us and perfectly good for the Minister and made him what he is—a fine figure of a Minister—there is no reason why the Germans should not eat it too. That is mutual recognition.

I want to tell the House in all candour that that principle can be very happily transferred to the criminal law. A moment or two's reflection will show why that is the case. It is possible throughout the Community to recognise two different types of sausage—the type that the Minister makes, in my hypothesis, and the type that the Germans want—so we could have German sausages and the Germans could have British sausages. There is a free movement of sausages—mutual recognition of sausages. It is not possible to bring that about in the criminal law.

It is not possible simultaneously to make it legal to drive on the right and on the left in all Community countries. The Minister will start to appreciate the point that I am making. It is not possible simultaneously to have a legal age of consent at 15 and at 18 in this country, and there are variations across the Community. Therefore, what we are talking about is not mutual recognition, as it has been generally understood in building the Community.

If anything, what we are trying to introduce by the European extradition warrant and the wrongful importing into the argument of the principle of mutual recognition is the assumption that, in any dispute between two criminal jurisdictions involving an argument about whether or not something is a crime, the higher standard will prevail; it will be assumed that that act is a crime for the purposes of extradition. That is not

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what is meant by mutual recognition. I am belabouring that point, and I mean to belabour it because I do not feel that it has been properly understood. I have tried to din it into the heads of Labour Members, but they have remained obstinately immune.

3.15 pm

Mr. George Howarth: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not engage in a debate about sausages, but does he believe that, if the age of consent is 18 in another European country—to use the example he gave—and people from this country went there and committed an offence, they should not be eligible for extradition?

Mr. Johnson: As I said in my opening remarks, I really think—I shall come to this point again in a minute—that we have something to gain and something to lose from such extradition. There will be things that we think are criminal, that are not recognised as crimes in other countries, for which we would like to extradite people to this country, and we will lose that opportunity.

Mr. Howarth: It is a simple question, Boris.

Mr. Johnson: My answer is no. I do not think that that involves mutual recognition. The House is being asked to agree that, in any dispute between two criminal jurisdictions, it should be assumed in deciding the matter of extradition that there is criminal conduct. It may be that the country in which the person currently resides says that the conduct is not criminal but, if there is a dispute, it will be assumed for the purposes of extradition that criminal conduct has taken place. That is something different from mutual recognition, and that fact should be recognised.

Mr. Tom Harris: During the hon. Gentleman's five years of journalism in Brussels, did he obey Belgian law or English law? Is it not the height of arrogance for him to suggest—this is the conclusion of his argument—that people from this country who go abroad are bound by their native law, not by the law of that other country? In effect, that is what he is saying.

Mr. Johnson: I am not going to take that criticism from the hon. Gentleman. Of course I obeyed Belgian law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romford pointed out, we should obey the law of whichever Community country we happen to be in. Of course that is what we are saying, but we are also saying that when people are in Britain, they should have the legal certainty that the laws of this country, not those of another Community country, will apply to them. The whole point is that they will be vulnerable to extradition for things that are not crimes in this country. That is the point on which we differ.

It is perfectly clear that there is a list of 32 broad categories of offence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Witney pointed out, that list can be varied at will by the European Council on a majority vote. There is no way that we can possibly influence the changes made to those categories of crime or, indeed, to the criminal justice systems of other countries, so we are giving up our democratic right to make the law of this country.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: To clarify the situation, the list can only be changed by unanimity. What we cannot do,

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however, is prevent the Belgians from changing Belgian law, or the French from changing French, law first as we will not allow them to prevent us from changing British law. If we changed British law, would we not expect people in our country to obey our new law?

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for clearing up the point about unanimity and majority voting, and I am sorry to have got that wrong just now. He makes the point well that it is up to the Belgians to vary their own criminal justice system. We will have absolutely no influence over that. The net result will be that a citizen in this country can be extradited to Belgium or to another category 1 country to face charges for something that is not a crime in this country. In my view, that is taking away the legal certainty of people whom we represent and the freedoms of people whom we were elected to serve. It is rash of us to do that, particularly when we consider how deeply at variance we currently are about one aspect of international law: we cannot agree with the French about the legal status of the action that we are taking in Iraq. There is a huge difference of opinion about the legality of that most vital international operation. How, therefore, can we expect to have consensus and harmony about a great host of minor matters, and how can we possibly expect our citizens to have any certainty about what laws apply to them as they move around the country?

Mr. Tom Harris: The hon. Gentleman is in danger of misrepresenting the case by almost suggesting—I know that he did not intend to say this—that a citizen of this country who has never set foot outside it will somehow be subject to extradition because he has broken a law in Britain that applies in another country. That is of course not the case. Citizens of Britain who go abroad are subject to the laws of that realm, and if they commit a crime in that country, irrespective of whether it is a crime in this country, they must surely be held accountable in the country that they have freely chosen to visit. Surely that is a fundamental point.

Mr. Johnson: Of course such people must be held to account, and I am not opposed to their being held to account for crimes that they may have committed in foreign countries. Of course we must respect the legal systems of other Community countries. I am simply saying that when we think that there is no crime under our laws, it should be possible for the Home Secretary—a democratically elected representative of our people—to decide that there is no case for immediate extradition. The European extradition law means immediate extradition, with no argument and no discussion. All that the Opposition are suggesting is that that very small safeguard should be built into the Bill. That seems not much to ask.

Mr. Burnett: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point, with which I have considerable sympathy. As he knows, dual criminality is abolished for category 1 countries. For example, someone who might have broken a swindling law in another category 1 country might be completely oblivious of the fact that he has broken any law whatever and would consider himself entirely innocent. Does the Gentleman agree

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that in those circumstances there must be some safeguards and there should not be immediate extradition?

Mr. Johnson: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who advances ever further in the hierarchy of soundness and common sense. It is miraculous what common sense Liberal Democrats in the west country show when they are up against Conservatives.

To return to the previous intervention from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris), I am in favour of us all obeying the laws of other Community countries and taking the consequences when we get home, provided that there is dual criminality. The Gentleman should bear in mind, however, that under the Bill, as he suggests, someone might be sitting in their front room doing something on a computer—as that is envisaged in the text of the Bill—and, as I read it, it is not outside the bounds of possibility that they could be extradited without having even set foot in a foreign country. The possibility that he raises as a reductio ad absurdam is therefore not as absurdam as he suggests.

Finally, I want to revert to the case of the Kalamata plane spotters, as the last time I did so I said that it would have been awful had they come back to Britain and been extradited on the spot. I think the Minister stood up and said, "Ha, ha! They could already be extradited, even without this extradition warrant Bill, because they were arrested under charges of espionage, and they would have had to go back." It was a good point. As I was able to say to him then, however, and as I shamelessly repeat now, the point is that under the current law the Home Secretary can decide whether to vary that warrant. It would be a small protection for our citizens to give the democratically elected Home Secretary the ultimate power to decide whether an extradition request from a European country was vexatious or improper. It is not beyond the imaginative powers of the Minister to understand how the Home Secretary, who is a very capable and intelligent man—unless the Minister is trying to tell me otherwise—could decide whether an extradition warrant was proper or not. He would simply decide whether the case had been well made and whether there was a case to answer, even if he could see no dual criminality, and then sign the case off. Installing such a small protection for the people whom we represent is the very least that we can ask of the Government.

I do not understand why the Minister does not do that because I can imagine the headlines that will be written after the provision bites. There will come a time when he will be recognised as the author of this sad legislation. I can imagine his future embarrassment and what certain tabloid newspapers will do to him. I could write the headlines for him—maybe I will. If he has any power of reflection, I urge him to think twice and accept the amendment.

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