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25 Mar 2003 : Column 250—continued

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. However, is his argument not inadvertently misleading? My understanding is that the framework directive does not make part 1 inevitable—it merely makes it possible. There is a world of difference between those two ideas.

Mr. Letwin: I do not seek to mislead the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's interpretation is exactly the one that the Government will make—it is certainly mine. I agree with him—I do not think that the framework directive compels Parliament to accept part 1. I am merely trying to ensure that at no point in the debate in the other place does a Minister spring to the Dispatch Box and use the argument that the framework directive compels acceptance of part 1.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am not trying to suggest that the situation is perfect, but surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that the framework decision went through the scrutiny arrangements in the House and cleared them. It was put in place when the Conservative party was in government. I have no desire to suggest that the arrangements could not be improved. However, these scrutiny arrangements have been in place for some time now.

Mr. Letwin: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman now sees the danger that I foresaw. I accept that the scrutiny arrangements are in place—I share the Minister's view and have a stronger version of it—but the arrangements are inadequate. That is not the issue. This is a third pillar measure. This is a measure relating to British criminal law. This is a measure that lies within the sovereignty and competence of this Parliament. On my understanding of this tenuous miasma known as the British constitution, it is not open to the Executive to use

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its prerogative power, scrutiny or no scrutiny, to override or compel the powers of this Parliament in relation to British criminal law. That is the point that I seek to establish. I hope that it will be the Government's position.

At least let it be understood that if the Government seek to argue in the other place that the framework directive compels part 1, contrary to my understanding and that of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East, they are taking a position to which we root and branch object and with which we root and branch disagree. That is the crunch issue that we shall face when, as I hope, the Bill returns to this place. It is an issue that I hope will at last attract to the Bill the public attention that it has so far so dramatically and sadly lacked.

6.11 pm

Mr. Mullin: As the Minister said, I think that the Bill leaves us in much better shape than it was in when it arrived in this place. Some of the improvements that the Opposition and the Select Committee on Home Affairs have achieved are examples of what can be obtained through effective scrutiny.

I have some sympathy with the points that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) was making a moment ago. There is a sense in which senior Ministers went off to Brussels and signed something, and then left my hon. Friend the Minister to explain it to us afterwards. He has done a good job of doing that. I do not have the same hang-ups as Opposition Members about European—and certainly European Union—judicial systems. I do not follow them as far as they would like us to. At the back of all this, I think there has been a slight feeling that the deal has already been done and that there is not much that the British Parliament can do about it. That makes me a bit uneasy, too.

Lady Hermon: I ask the hon. Gentleman to comment on the nature of directives. Directives are used regularly within the European Community to harmonise legislation throughout the member states. Member states are set aims and objectives by the directive and it is entirely within the discretion of each member state how it implements a directive. However, if the directive is not implemented by the time a deadline has passed, that gives rise to direct rights that individuals can rely upon anyway.

Mr. Mullin: I do not want to open out the debate into the long struggle that has taken place between the House and the European Commission and all its works. For the purposes of the Bill I want only to place it on record that I think that, at the back of the Bill, there has been the problem which, to some extent, the right hon. Member for West Dorset described a moment ago. However, I think that the principles are sound. It must be reasonable that we should be able to extradite people who have committed offences in judicial systems where

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broadly similar standards apply, and that they can be returned to face the law. Most EU judicial systems are rather more merciful than our own.

Annabelle Ewing: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mullin: Yes, but I was not proposing to make a big meal of these matters.

Annabelle Ewing: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I hope not to take up too much of his time. Does he not accept that the principle of mutual recognition that underpins EC first pillar legislation is based on minimal harmonisation of standards? The third pillar measure in question is an extension of the principle of mutual recognition to an area where minimal harmonisation of standards has not occurred.

Mr. Mullin: That is a reasonable point and it has been made quite a lot during our discussions.

As I said, I think that the Bill has emerged from the House in rather better shape than when it was introduced. There is still some scope for improvement and that may occur in another part of the building. I should like to thank the Minister for the constructive way in which he has proceeded, especially in his engagement with the Select Committee. Pre-legislative scrutiny is a science that it is still in its infancy, but his handling of the Bill has been better in terms of engaging with the Select Committee than that of almost any of the Bills that we have so far considered.

The process has been helped by the fact that the Bill was published well in advance, so it was possible to gather other opinions. That is not the case in respect of much of the other legislation that comes tumbling out of the Home Office. The Committee often has to conduct an inquiry before we see the Bill in question. On antisocial behaviour, the Committee had a session with the same overworked Minister this morning, but the Bill is yet to come. It will be along in a couple of days and I think that it will be considered on Second Reading in a couple of weeks' time. Everybody acknowledges that that is not an entirely satisfactory way of doing business, especially in terms of very controversial measures. The Bill has benefited by being published well in advance and I know that Home Office Ministers would like to achieve that in introducing all their legislation. That is to the benefit of the Government and Parliament, and I hope that that process will continue. I look forward to seeing what happens to the Bill when it goes to another place.

6.17 pm

Mr. Burnett: I should like to put on record again my gratitude and that of the House for the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. The Committee deserves credit not only for the report, but for the speed with which it drew it up. It has been of great help to Opposition parties and in Committee, and I believe that it has also been a great help to the Government themselves. During the passage of the Bill, we have made considerable progress. Like other hon. Members, I welcomed on Report the fact that the Government have made significant concessions.

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As I said earlier, the major concession was the restoration of specialty. That was important for me and a great many of us on the Committee. We now have sensible definitions of enforcement personnel. Furthermore, any country that retains the death penalty cannot qualify as a category 1 country. I tabled an amendment in Committee to that effect, and I am grateful that that proposal is now part of the Bill. I am also delighted to see that there has to be judicial authority to effect a European arrest warrant, although that is subject to transitional arrangements that will, I am sure, be scrutinised carefully in another place. There will now be more satisfactory provisions in relation to identity. No doubt those in the other place will again pay careful attention to the level of the burden of proof as set out by the Minister.

There are genuine difficulties in relation to which countries should be designated as category 1 countries and would benefit thereby from the expedited fast-track procedure. There are also genuine objections to the nebulous 32 offences. Of course, we should obey the laws of the country in which we reside or the countries that we visit.

The Minister should not scoff at the genuine reservations and anxieties of hon. Members who argue cogently for accurate definitions of offences that are eligible for fast-track extradition. As the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) rightly said, there is no minimum harmonisation standard. Their Lordships will revert to such matters, but we derive encouragement from the Minister's statement that he will "have his ears open" to those problems.

Considerable progress has been made and I believe that there will be more in the other place.

6.20 pm

Mr. Cameron: I did not intend to speak. However, not for the first time, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) inspired me to say something to back him up—not that he needs it—on the point about whether we can amend what the Government agree under the third pillar.

It would be instructive to share with hon. Members an interesting occurrence in the Home Affairs Committee. We wanted to try to find a way in which to accept the European arrest warrant while reducing the impact of changes to dual criminality. We perceived them as constituting a major change to our constituents' rights. We proposed that the Home Secretary should have a back-stop power. Our recommendation stated

The Select Committee devised that modest proposal, which we included in a draft report. Our excellent Clerk returned to the Committee and said that he did not believe that we could include it in the final report because parliamentary counsel's advice suggested that the recommendation might be asking the Government to do something illegal. We discussed the matter in the Committee and decided that that was ridiculous because Select Committees should be able to make

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recommendations to the Government. They could then tell us whether the recommendations were illegal and try to explain their reasons to the House of Commons.

What have we come to if we cannot even make a cogent and sensible suggestion in Committee for reducing the European arrest warrant's impact on people's freedom in this country? The Minister could take two steps. First, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said, he could ask the Home Secretary to return to the European Council to try to renegotiate, at a slower pace, the warrant which was initially negotiated in haste, so that it provided the protection that members of the Home Affairs Committee believed to be necessary.

Secondly, the European arrest warrant does not state that we cannot have a back-stop power. Why do not the Government have a little courage and introduce such a power to our domestic legislation? That would be a good provision, which an all-party Committee supports. We should try that and allow it to be tested in European law, thus ascertaining whether it went against the terms of the directive.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said, it is essential to ascertain whether the third pillar means that the Government can sign up to something in Europe that we cannot amend in the House. If that is the case, what is the point of the many hours of debate in the Select Committee, the Standing Committee and the Chamber? We need an answer to that question in the other place, if not here, before we finish scrutinising and, I hope, improving the Bill.

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