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25 Mar 2003 : Column 254—continued

6.24 pm

Lady Hermon: I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on a Bill that I welcome.

In a previous incarnation many years ago, when I lectured in the law faculty at Queen's university, Belfast, I taught international law, and I must confess that I dreaded the weeks when I had to lecture on extradition law. It was extremely complicated, and I am sure that the students ended up no more enlightened. I am therefore delighted that the extradition procedure has been simplified.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) expressed genuine concern about the effect of European Community law on our criminal law, but I must tell him that it already has an effect, in that it already provides a complete defence to a criminal charge in this country without our having to do anything. Let me give an example from Northern Ireland. A lorryload of pigs that had been smuggled across the border was intercepted by a police officer in South Armagh. The driver pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching our domestic legislation because he did not have the relevant documents. He faced three months in prison, confiscation of his 75 bacon pigs—my students used to write "baking pigs", but they were bacon pigs—or both.

The driver's defence lawyer, who had had the excellent experience of being taught European Community law at Queen's—as the House knows, we are very progressive in Belfast—advised him to make a plea based on that law, and on the free movement of goods between one member state and another. The driver was simply moving goods—pigs—from the Republic of Ireland to the United Kingdom. That was a

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complete defence to a criminal charge. I could cite other cases, but you would intervene if I did, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Letwin: I accept that, alas, first and second-pillar European legislation has brought about the principle of the defeasibility of our domestic criminal legislation in our law. There is, I fear, no doubt of that. Does the hon. Lady not recognise, however, that in this instance—we are dealing here with the third pillar—we would take an immensely significant further step if we accepted that the Home Secretary of the day could negate Parliament's activity in legislating afresh in the sphere of domestic law simply by signing a framework directive in Brussels?

Lady Hermon: That is a good point, but it is technically incorrect. For many years directives, having passed the date for implementation in member states, have become directly effective, which is quite different from directly applicable. EU regulations are directly applicable; directives give individuals a directly effective right to challenge decisions in their local courts. This is not an exception, and such cases are not unusual.

Mr. Letwin rose—

Lady Hermon: The right hon. Gentleman, with an angelic smile, requests me to give way again. I shall do so, although I am sure it is not wise.

Mr. Letwin: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because I think this is immensely important.

I accept the doctrine of direct effect—how could I do otherwise, since a series of cases make its existence clear, regrettable though I consider that to be. In this instance, however, who would have the locus? A foreign Government, the Government of an EU member state, would have to try to persuade the European Court of Justice that they had the locus to enforce the direct effect of the directive in a UK court. That has never happened in a UK court, and it would be a further step amounting to a huge constitutional innovation.

Lady Hermon: That was, as ever, a very helpful intervention. I think that the person charged could plead European Community law on free movement—free movement of people, in this context—but I repeat that it is not unusual for provisions in directives to be directly effective.

Let me now move on, before the right hon. Gentleman develops a habit of intervening. In my view, easily the best thing that Labour has done since coming to power in 1997 is bringing home the European convention of human rights and incorporating it through the Human Rights Act 1998. It has therefore grieved and troubled me to note those past occasions when legislation such as this has not measured up to our human rights commitments. Because of the changes and amendments that the Government have introduced today, I am much happier to believe that we are in line with our convention obligations, particularly given the Minister's clarification and firm assurance, in response to my earlier intervention, that no one would be

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extradited to a part 1 territory if they were at risk of the death penalty. Indeed, that is a clear obligation under the longstanding jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

I am very glad that this country has ruled out for ever and a day the death penalty, which was on the Republic of Ireland's statute book but is never used. I am very pleased that the Government have made it clear that there is no way a person will be extradited from this country to face the death penalty. As I said, it is clear that our obligations within the convention have been recognised today, and I welcome that.

On a very personal note, my dear husband was Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary—it was not the Police Service of Northern Ireland in those days—for almost 10 years, making him the longest serving Chief Constable bar none. It was harrowing to realise that those who had committed atrocious and appalling acts of terrorism could escape across the border into the Republic of Ireland. It was also harrowing for relatives of victims to know that, because of the complicated extradition procedures involving the United Kingdom and the only member state that borders it, that state refused to, or found it difficult to, extradite such people in order at least to face a trial—there is always the presumption of innocence—in Northern Ireland or elsewhere for the atrocious crimes that they allegedly committed.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset seemed to turn his mind to terrorism, and if the Bill makes it easier to extradite those who are guilty of terrorist crimes, I fully support it. However, I urge the Minister not to exclude the linked paramilitary activities that fund terrorism. Terrorists need funds to carry out these appalling acts, so I urge him not to narrow the provision to cover just terrorism itself.

6.32 pm

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: With the leave of the House, I will respond to what has been a very worthwhile debate, in which we have finalised consideration of the Bill in this place. I understand that, potentially, we have until 7 o'clock, but I am not planning to delay the House until then—unless the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) pops up repeatedly.

I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and the various members of the Select Committee for the work that they have put into this Bill. Their interventions and representations have provided food for thought, and considerable effort went into that process. As both Opposition parties have recognised, that was a great help to them in getting their heads round what is an obscure area of law. As I said in my opening speech, that process has led to a better Bill going to the other place. As my hon. Friend knows, I will wear the praise that he heaps upon me with pride—and I hope that he tells the boss as well.

I do not have the skills to get involved in the intellectual legal tussle that has just taken place between the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and the right hon. Member for West Dorset. The hon. Lady's contribution was impressive, and as a non-lawyer I doubt whether I can match it in any way. I hope that she has given the right hon. Gentleman food for

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thought. As he often asks us to continue to reflect on our positions, I hope that he will continue to reflect on his. He will have to justify his line that the measure should apply only to terrorism. The hon. Member for North Down exposes that view on the basis of practical experience. It is not workable and I believe—I hope that I am not being unfair to him—that the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He does not want to stand before the House and be seen to make a proposal that would weaken our armoury against terrorism, so he has slipped this in as the very minimum that he can achieve with respect to part 1. Effectively, he is proposing something that simply would not work and he is also ignoring some serious crimes.

It is interesting to note how the right hon. Gentleman conducts himself in this Third Reading debate. We have been bombarded week after week by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), making the constant allegation that these are dreadfully draconian measures, but the right hon. Gentleman chooses to challenge us mainly not on the measures in part 1, although I am sure that he does not agree with them, but instead he alleges that we are doing something dreadful and that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was appallingly lax in his response to the tragedy of 9/11 and allowed himself to be rushed into commitments now being imposed on Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman invites us to think that it is all awful and hopes that some way can be found of undoing the dreadful damage that has been done.

I might not want to challenge the right hon. Gentleman to a legal intellectual battle, but I am able to challenge him on the historical record. In that light, there is only one thing wrong with what he says—it is simply not true, and the record shows that it is not true. I ask him to look again at the consultation document, "The Law on Extradition: A Review", issued by the previous Home Secretary in March 2001—before 9/11 and all the panic that the right hon. Gentleman suggests lies at the centre of these proposals. I repeat that we issued a consultation document proposing a new framework for extradition back in March 2001. That document does not square exactly with what is in the Bill—I am not suggesting that it does—but it proposed that we did away with dual criminality in respect of our European partners. How on earth can the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that the only reason why we are in this position is that the Home Secretary was panicked into doing something after 9/11, when the fundamental proposition appeared in a Government consultation document six months earlier?

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