Extradition Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: The first group of amendments goes to the heart of the Bill. I would describe the Bill in the business terms that I was familiar with in a previous incarnation: it is front-end loaded in that the most contentious parts are at the beginning. Few more important issues are evident in the Bill than are covered by this group of amendments. Many amendments stand in my name or in those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but amendment No. 116, which I shall touch on briefly, is a Liberal Democrat amendment that would have broadly the same effect.

I hope that you, Mr. O'Hara, or your fellow co-Chairman, will, largely because of the front loading, use your discretion to allow a clause stand part debate as well as a debate on the amendments. When debates on amendments cover considerable ground, I realise that Chairmen are often reluctant to grant stand part debates, but I hope that it will be different this time because of the substance in clauses 1 and 2, which justifies a wide-ranging stand part debate on each clause.

Amendment No. 1 would restrict the ambit of the whole of part 1 to terrorist offences. I shall return in a moment to what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said on Second Reading. We firmly believe that the provisions are draconian and are justifiable only when restricted to terrorist cases. They are not justified for all 32 listed offences—some extremely vague—set out in the framework decision to which the Government signed up. As was said on Second Reading, the provisions are an attempt, despite a statement to the contrary, to introduce into English law through the back door the alien concept of corpus juris. That is at the heart of the debate about the whole Bill.

I turn now to what my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said on 9 December. It is important for the Committee to revisit the Second Reading debate, particularly the contributions of my right hon. Friend and of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). Other members of that Committee may want to reflect on the hugely important constitutional issues posed by the amendments.

My right hon. Friend stated his objections to part 1 special provisions in application to offences other than terrorism. He said:

    ''Part 1 would not be acceptable even if it meant what the Minister says he means it to mean. The ''list of offences'', for instance, is not a list of offences, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) pointed out with his usual perspicacity. It is, in fact, a mechanism whereby a set of representatives of executive powers—of Governments—in the

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    European Union will decide what, from time to time, they wish to be the list of offences. The Minister told the House that it was far better to ensure that it was done by the unanimous decision of the Council of Ministers rather than by some other mechanism, but what does he mean by the unanimous decision of the Council of Ministers? He means that the Governments of the member states would get together and change the framework directive, and thereby change the list of offences.''

He continued a little later:

    ''The list is already deeply obnoxious. It contains the arguable offence of xenophobia, which is an offence in some countries but not in ours, in a most bizarre and ambiguous form.''—[Official Report, 9 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 54.]

The reason why many aspects of part 1 of the Bill are inappropriate is the inclusion in the list of many vague categories of offence, such as computer-related crime, racism and xenophobia, which are not specifically defined in English law. We are by no means alone in our concerns about this, because we pray in aid the views of the Labour-dominated Select Committee on Home Affairs after its consideration of the Bill.

4.45 pm

The Chairman of that Committee, when discussing category 1 extraditions, said:

    ''As it stands, the Bill allows the list of 32 offences to be incorporated into UK domestic law without any opportunity for Parliament to disagree with, let alone debate, the proposed changes. The Select Committee believes that that is unacceptable.''

That Select Committee is Labour-dominated. The hon. Gentleman continued:

    ''Furthermore, despite Ministerial assurances to the contrary, it appears that clause 2(5) will deny our judges the opportunity to refuse an application on the ground that it does not come from a properly constituted judicial authority of a category 1 state.''—[Official Report, 9 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 62.]

We will return to that point when we discuss clause 2(5).

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South was not the only Labour Member to express such concern. Powerful concerns were also expressed by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas), whom I have seen in other contexts before he was in the House. I have observed him practising as a lawyer and know him to be an able and distinguished barrister. He said:

    ''With the greatest respect, our current extradition law does not operate in the context of an all-embracing fast-track system, which will apply to category 1 offences. To create that sort of category is a drastic, but necessary step, although it should be counterbalanced by certain protections.''

He also felt that

    ''the Government should look again at lowering the threshold from three years to 12 months.''—[Official Report, 9 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 95.]

That issue will occur again in later clauses, but is linked to the unacceptability of these draconian measures. Our amendments are intended to refer forward to other clauses in the Bill.

Members of the Committee will have noted that this group of amendments includes amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9, which seek to amend clause 2, amendments Nos. 68, 69 and 74, which seek to amend clause 63, amendments Nos. 75 and 83, which seek to amend clause 64, and amendment No. 85 which seeks to amend clause 65. The fact that you, Mr. O'Hara,

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wisely grouped those amendments shows that much of the meat of the Bill, and many of the contentious aspects in later clauses, all link back to clause 1. That is why we need to debate those matters now.

One of our amendments attempts to put into the Bill a specific requirement for an affirmative resolution procedure, so that there is proper parliamentary scrutiny of any decisions that are taken under the procedure proposed by the Government. The Opposition felt strongly about that issue, as did the Labour-dominated Home Affairs Committee, which specifically and in the strongest terms recommended the affirmative resolution procedure. I draw that to the attention of Labour Back-Bench Members, and put them on notice that their own colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee felt so strongly about the matter that in paragraph 42 of their report they said

    ''we consider that, at the very least, any Orders in Council made under Clauses 1(1) or 68(1) should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, whereby they may not be made unless a draft of the Order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House. The Home Office told us that it believes that the negative resolution procedure is the appropriate one to use for these Orders.''

In other words, the Government want such measures to go through on the nod, so there will be no proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The Select Committee went on to say that the Government

    ''pointed to the precedent of section 5 of the Extradition Act 1989, which provides that a list of Commonwealth countries may be designated by Order in Council for the purposes of section 1(2) of the 1989 Act. Section 1(2) provides that, if a person who is in the UK is accused of committing an offence in a country specified on the section 5 list, then that person may be arrested and returned to that country.''

Paragraph 43 of the Home Affairs Committee report is in heavy type. We all know what that means: it is a firm recommendation about which the Committee felt strongly. In response to what Ministers told the Committee, it said:

    ''We do not accept that Parliament should be constrained by the precedent of the 1989 Act from requiring an appropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny for delegated legislation that may have the effect of removing significant safeguards for individuals subject to extradition requests. If our recommendation in paragraph 41 above is not accepted, then Clause 205 should be amended to provide that Orders in Council made under Clauses 1(1) and 68(1) may not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.''

The report could not have put it more strongly than that. The Select Committee said that ''at the very least''—in other words, it was the minimum requirement—the affirmative resolution procedure should apply, but the Government have not even gone as far as that. I hoped that, following the strong views expressed on Second Reading, even by Labour Back Benchers and the Select Committee Chairman, the Government would introduce their own amendment to provide for the affirmative resolution procedure.

The previous recommendation in heavy type is in paragraph 41, which states:

    ''We . . . recommend that Clause 1(1) be amended to specify that only those countries that are signatories to the framework decision may be designated territories for the purposes of Part 1 of the Bill, and that Clause 68(1) be amended to specify that only those

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    countries with which the UK has general extradition arrangements may be designated territories for the purposes of Part 2 of the Bill.''

Conservative Members feel even more strongly than the Select Committee. We believe that part 1 of the Bill should relate only to terrorism. If it did, it would be just about acceptable as a minimum. For all the other offences, part 2 is much less controversial. To a large extent, it replicates many of the provisions in existing extradition legislation and may make them more efficient.

Conservative Members accept that the current cumbersome extradition procedures can be improved. We are not trying to get in the way of all extraditions. I am sure that the Minister will argue that the Conservatives are trying to slow down extraditions, allowing the guilty to get off, but in fact we are trying to protect the civil liberties of people, while accepting that more efficient extradition procedures are needed. We believe that we can have the more efficient procedures that the Government propose in part 2 without trampling over everyone's civil liberties.

Our views have been supported not only by the Labour-dominated Select Committee and by Labour Back Benchers on Second Reading, but by a rainbow coalition of those who care about civil liberties in this country. We have been supported by organisations as diverse as Liberty, which is traditionally thought of as being on the left of politics, and the Democracy Movement and the Freedom Association, which are traditionally thought of as being on the right. Surely that should give the Government pause for thought. What they are doing is not acceptable to all those who care about civil liberties, from whatever part of the political spectrum they come. We will not create a proper system under British law by taking away all the fundamental rights and freedoms of people to have the protection of the United Kingdom courts and Parliament.

If the Government were to accept these amendments, or to introduce their own along similar lines, it would bring back the degree of parliamentary and court protection on which British citizens have always properly been able to rely. There are many different rights, such as that of habeas corpus, that part 1 of the Bill does away with. That is not good enough, and it is something about which the Conservatives feel passionately.

Amendment No. 1 would restrict the ambit of part 1 to terrorist offences, and I have set out the reasons why we feel so strongly about that. Amendment No. 90, which has received support from the Law Society, would restrict the operation of part 1 only to countries that are signatories to the European convention on human rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who was a last-minute addition to the Committee and is unable to be with us today because of his duties on a Select Committee, has a long-standing interest in the issue. He spoke about it on Second Reading, and the Minister will remember that he and I have often queried various aspects in European Standing Committees when debating the European arrest warrant.

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My hon. Friend expressed his concern about the fact that the Government, particularly in introducing such vague offences, are giving judicial authorities in, for example, Greece—who caused so much concern over the British plane-spotters in Kalamata—many powers to instruct people to be arrested and extradited from this country, while the courts in Australia will not be able to use those powers. They will be able to use only the part 2 powers. As my hon. Friend said, if asked, most British citizens would say that they had more confidence in the courts in Australia than in Greece to do things properly according to traditional principles of English law and civil liberties. However, the Government are doing things the other way round and saying that countries such as Greece will have the power to have draconian provisions applied to British citizens without a British court having the right to intervene. That is not acceptable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon went further, and pointed out that it will not just be current members of the European Union that will have the powers, but it will be open for the powers to be extended to future members. He drew attention in particular to his concerns if Turkey were allowed to accede to the EU. I have extremely strong views about the appalling human rights record in Turkey because of my experience of the Cyprus problem, which is a concern that I know you share, Mr. O'Hara. I do not think that Turkey is ever likely to be considered appropriate for accession to the EU. That is a personal view, and I have no hesitation in expressing it, but we must recognise that Turkey wants to accede and may one day become an EU country. I think that British people would be appalled if they realised that the Government were allowing countries such as Turkey, if they became members of the EU, to have their so-called judicial authorities impose arrest warrants on British citizens who would then be hauled off to a Turkish court without any judicial or parliamentary scrutiny.

 
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