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25 Mar 2003 : Column 223—continued

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I shall confine my comments to the two broad themes of what constitutes an extradition offence and what are the criteria for designating countries under part 1 or part 2 of the Bill.

New clause 1 and amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 would limit the relaxation of dual criminality to terrorist offences only. After comments made on Second Reading and in the Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) will not be surprised to learn that I do not accept the amendments. They are neither desirable nor workable.

There is a need to modernise our extradition law, by putting in place a fast-track regime to govern our extradition relations with countries in whose criminal

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justice systems we have faith. A major plank of that attempt to fast-track extradition is the relaxation of dual criminality for the 32 categories of offence on the list. I make no apology for that. In previous exchanges, I have made it clear that British citizens who go abroad and break the law of another EU country should expect to face justice, just as we would want to prosecute people who come to the UK and break our law. The lack of an exact equivalent offence in the home country does not excuse illegal conduct; nor should it be a means of avoiding extradition.

No one, least of all a Home Office Minister, underestimates the awful threat posed by terrorism, but nor can we ignore the menace of non-terrorist serious criminality and international crime. I do not believe that is what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath wants, but it would be one effect of his amendment.

Indeed, the effects of the amendment would go further. The provision would implement two routes for extradition, according to intent. The courts would be required to make a judgment about a criminal's motive. However, defining a terrorist is often problematic. It is not always possible to distinguish between, for example, drug trafficking that is carried out for personal gain and that undertaken for another purpose. Some organisations in different parts of the world are involved in drug trafficking for their own gain. Sometimes the same organisations undertake drug trafficking to fund terrorism. If we accepted the Opposition's argument, we would open up an avenue for legal challenges and arguments not about the offence committed, but about the motives of the individual who committed it.

4.30 pm

The Opposition will say that they have defined terrorism according to the Terrorism Act 2000, but that raises another problem. The definition of terrorism to be used for this purpose is based on a list of terrorist offences contained in UK legislation. In other words, according to the Opposition, the only circumstances in which we should be prepared to do away with the dual criminality requirement is where the conduct is an offence in UK law. That is an interesting back-door way to end up with the entire dual criminality requirement intact, which would be the effect of new clause 1. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath seeks to sneak in by the back door complete opposition to the relaxation of dual criminality, in effect, in terrorism cases, as well as in others, so I am opposed to new clause 1. It would effectively do away with the dual criminality proposals, for terrorism, as well as the other serious offences.

I turn now to the other amendments. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) for tabling amendments Nos. 25, 26, 27, 30 and 31 and new schedule 1. Those amendments are relatively clear in their effect. They would place in the Bill the list of offence categories set out in the framework decision in article 2.2.

Clause 65 deals with what constitutes an extradition offence and makes it quite clear that the list of generic offences for which dual criminality will be abolished is that in the framework decision, so I suggest that no ambiguity or doubt will be occasioned by the present formulation. The list can be amended only by a unanimous decision of the Council. That would require

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very broad consensus, so it would be most unlikely that over-controversial or trivial offences would be added to the list.

As I said in my written reply to my hon. Friend, I am not aware of any plan to amend the list, but if it were amended, the effect would be that the Bill would be updated automatically. We need to be able to retain the flexibility to deal with changes to the list, so I am not at present persuaded that there is any need to make the change that the amendments would bring about. I recognise, however, that my hon. Friend still holds very strongly the views that he has expressed today on the point raised by the Home Affairs Committee. It remains to be seen whether Members of another place feel the same way.

I now turn to the designation of territories and amendments Nos. 16, 24, 28 and 29, tabled by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, and amendments Nos. 89 and 90, tabled by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett). The effect of amendment No. 16 is that, if a country were party to the European convention on human rights, it would be automatically designated as a category 1 country. That amendment would put a huge and disproportionate amount of trust in countries that have signed up to the convention with absolutely no say domestically about whether or not they should be included in that category of streamlined extradition. The mere fact of ratifying the ECHR should not in itself lead to those countries being included in category 1. That suggestion seems to me to be a radical step, and I do not really believe that that is what the hon. Gentleman intended.

Amendments Nos. 24, 28 and 29 lay out an alternative way in which states can be designated in primary legislation. On the face of it, there would seem to be nothing wrong with those amendments. However, they would restrict our ability to add new countries to either part 1 or part 2. This is a useful opportunity for me to offer some reassurance to the House by explaining our intentions with regard to part 1 and part 2 designations.

We intend to designate all existing EU member states as part 1 countries. In the short term, it is possible that we will designate Norway and Iceland as part 1 countries. Further down the road, we will need to designate new members of the EU. Beyond that, there are no plans to add any country to part 1. It is possible, however, that at some time in the future it would be desirable to add some other country, such as a trusted Commonwealth country or regular bilateral treaty partner, to part 1. We do not believe that we should remove the flexibility to allow for that. I do not believe that there would be any great objection in the House to, say, putting Australia or Canada into part 1 if they desired it. As I have indicated, we have no plans to do so, but, equally, we do not see why our future flexibility should be unnecessarily limited.

Mr. Mullin: If my hon. Friend can see no particular objection to adding any of the countries to which he has just referred, why do the Government not let the House in on the act, too?

Mr. Ainsworth: I hear what my hon. Friend says, but, as I have said, his amendment effectively limits part 1 designation to EU countries and other Schengen

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countries. We need that flexibility, and there may be countries that do not fall into that category which ought, in the future, to be designated as part 1 countries, if they and we are desirous of that.

Mr. Letwin: This point will be relevant on Third Reading. The exchange between the Minister and the Select Committee Chairman is a fascinating one. Is the Minister's general principle that the Government want to maintain the flexibility to use the prerogative power to set British criminal law? Is that the principle that the Government seek to enunciate?

Mr. Ainsworth: To be honest, I am not at all sure of all the ramifications of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I am talking about the Extradition Bill and what is in it at the moment. I want to maintain the ability, which I would have thought he would think reasonable, to designate as part 1 countries those countries with which we have regular extradition communication and traffic and in whose legal systems we have a high degree of confidence.

Mr. Letwin: I am sorry to delay the House, but this is a point of cardinal importance. The discussion between the Minister and the Select Committee Chairman is not about whether those countries should be added, but about whether the Government should be able to do that by prerogative power, or whether the House is the place in which such decisions about British criminal law are made.

Mr. Ainsworth: I hear what both my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South and the right hon. Gentleman say on that, and, clearly, we will have to reflect on those comments and on others that may be made as the Bill progresses through the House. Clearly, if Members are not satisfied with the arrangements that are currently in the Bill, they will continue to make their views known, and we will continue to open our ears to those arguments. If I may, I shall move on to what may be an even bigger problem: the situation that faces us in relation to what will become part 2.

It is currently possible for any country with which we do not have standing extradition relations to make an ad hoc extradition request to the UK. We would not want to lose that facility, not least because the reciprocal nature of extradition means that losing it would put in doubt the UK's ability to make ad hoc outgoing requests. Clause 1 gives us flexibility within a defined designation process that is subject to parliamentary approval. However, I know that some people were especially worried that we might want to add the USA—a country with the death penalty—to part 1. We tabled the amendments necessary to render that impossible, and I know that many hon. Members are pleased that it is beyond doubt that we will not allow a country with the death penalty to be designated under part 1.

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