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25 Mar 2003 : Column 202—continued

Mr. George Howarth: It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), not least because my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) tells me that the hon. Gentleman has an iconic status among the young people of

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Liverpool. I am not entirely sure how that has arisen, but no doubt I shall gain some brownie points from my hon. Friend for speaking against the hon. Gentleman.

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and, to put it kindly, the logic of his argument was muddled. He seemed to advance the theory that extradition should be right and permissible only when the offence that is committed in one country is roughly the same as an offence under our criminal law, which I assume he would concede to be the principle of dual criminality. I think that that was the burden of his argument, although he might wish to correct me because he was somewhat muddled and I might have misunderstood him.

I found it rather shocking that the hon. Gentleman made that argument, and I have two problems with it. I think that he believes that nation states have the right to decide what is right and appropriate for them. I presume that his time spent as a journalist in Brussels reinforced that view because I have heard him advance the argument in the past. If he accepts that any nation state, whether in the EU or not, has the right to make such decisions, it follows that any visitor to a nation state is bound by its law and that any visitor who commits an offence there yet manages to get home should expect to be extradited back to that country to face the music. I have no problem with the logic of that and I do not know why the hon. Gentleman, who is a great defender of nation states, cannot understand why that must be the case.

Mr. Cameron rose—

Mr. Boris Johnson rose—

Mr. Howarth: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and then the hon. Member for Henley.

Mr. Cameron: Surely the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that we should remove the protection of dual criminality not only from EU states, but from states throughout the world.

3.30 pm

Mr. Howarth: No. The omission that the hon. Gentleman makes in raising that point is that all other EU states, and even to some degree the applicant countries, recognise that there is already a framework setting down some minimum standards. So, there is a distinct difference. For argument's sake, I would not say that that would be so in all countries in the world, because clearly there are some places where criminal law is not as sophisticated as that in most European states and ours.

Mr. Cameron rose—

Mr. Howarth: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again, because I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for Henley.

Mr. Johnson: I am not, of course, saying that people should not be extradited except where dual criminality

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applies. No one on the Conservative Benches is saying that. The hon. Gentleman grossly misrepresents my argument. All we are saying is that when dual criminality does not apply, the Home Secretary should have the power to decide whether to go ahead with the extradition. I thought that I had made that abundantly clear.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman's indignation overtook my ability to make my second point, which was indeed to talk about the Home Secretary's role. I happen to have been a junior Minister at the Home Office when my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), as Home Secretary, had to study and make a decision on the Pinochet case. I shall not go into all the rights and wrongs of that, but I will make a couple of observations about the process.

First, a cordon sanitaire had to be built around my right hon. Friend because it was properly recognised by officials that he could not be easily influenced by anything else going on and that he had to concentrate uniquely and almost single-mindedly on the arguments for the application for extradition and their merits or otherwise. Secondly—

Mr. Johnson rose—

Mr. Howarth: If the hon. Gentleman will let me finish my point, I will allow him to intervene.

Secondly, although I had no direct or even indirect involvement in the Pinochet case, I know that my right hon. Friend had to concentrate on the legal arguments that both sides put before him. He was not acting as some superimposed arbiter of right and wrong, but deciding on the legal arguments which, in almost any other circumstance, would have fallen to a judge.

Mr. Johnson: The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was in a difficult position because as a youth he had been out demonstrating against Mr. Pinochet. As far as I can remember, that was the particular difficulty that beset him. It is hard to imagine similar difficulties affecting future Home Secretaries in making such decisions. I therefore do not see why the hon. Gentleman's point invalidates the general desirability of a Home Secretary making such a final, safety, backstop judgment on whether extradition should go ahead.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman's point applies not only to my right hon. Friend but to almost all politicians. The truth is—and the hon. Gentleman is no exception to this rule—we all have form. Every one of us in pursuit of our political careers has taken positions on all sorts of things. If the hon. Gentleman ever found himself in a position such as the one I have described, he too would have form—not necessarily on Pinochet, but he will have made pronouncements not only in his political life but during his career in journalism. That is why it is far better for such things to be decided by judges than by those of us who find ourselves in political positions that on occasions may have quasi-judicial implications. The hon. Gentleman has not made a strong case. All the arguments go in the opposite direction, and I certainly shall not be voting for the Opposition amendments.

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Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Where do I start? I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) for trying to help me bring a little clarity and logic to the debate, although that is pretty difficult.

Let us try to unravel some of the jumbling that has gone on since the Conservative Back Benchers, joined by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), took over the debate. The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon complained about the list, and someone not knowing whether or not he was committing an offence. I understand that the Gentleman is a lawyer. If he is seriously telling the House that ignorance of the law is a reason for rendering one immune to prosecution, he should stand up and say so, otherwise he should not have come to the House and spoken about someone not knowing they had committed an offence.

Mr. Burnett: Of course, I recognise and acknowledge that ignorance of the law is not a defence against a charge. Having said that, if someone commits an offence overseas which he believes is not an offence—he believes that it is an entirely innocent act—and is then subject to extradition, surely there must be some safeguards.

Mr. Ainsworth: So if a German, for example, comes to our country, breaks our law, returns to Germany and says, "But wait a minute, I didn't know I was breaking the law," he should not be sent back here to face justice.

Mr. Burnett rose—

Mr. Ainsworth: No, I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman again.

That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying—there must be a safeguard that prevents that man from being returned. His ignorance of the fact that he was breaking the law ought to provide him with protection from prosecution.

Mr. Boris Johnson: The whole point, as the Minister well knows, is that ignorance of the law of one's own country is not a defence—that is indisputable. However, let us suppose that a fine, influential, upstanding Home Office Minister went to Finland and made a speech defending the behaviour of the coalition forces in the war, argued that there were good reasons for supporting military action in the Gulf, then went back to London thinking that he had done a good job, only to find that he was guilty of breaching the Finnish law on warmongering, would that Minister be wholly innocent or not on the ground that he did not know—and I bet that the Minister does not know, but perhaps he will correct me—that warmongering is an offence in Finland?

Mr. Ainsworth: Let me try to deal with the issues that have been raised.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Ainsworth: I shall not accept interventions for the moment, but of course I will allow hon. Members to intervene later.

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We have heard numerous contradictions, including many in the speech of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson). He said that if the age at which someone could be prosecuted as a criminal in this country was different from that in another country they should not be sent back. However, only a couple of sentences later, he agreed that when he was in Belgium he abided by Belgian law. He cannot have it all ways. The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) spoke about somebody who had committed an offence in Spain and returned to this country. That person could be extradited and, during that process, at no time would it be asked whether or not what he had done was an offence in that country.

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