Extradition Bill

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Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): I raised a point during a debate on part 1 and he did not answer my question, presumably because he did not have the list. It would be helpful to have a list. This is not an issue of principle; it is a practical matter. We may impose more or less serious sentences than other countries, and there is an argument for ensuring that the same offences attract extradition both ways, but we need to know what would be caught or relieved by moving the limit from one year to three, which is what it says in the framework document. So the list would be helpful.

However, the Government are changing the present extradition arrangements, more so in part 1 than in the provisions we are debating now, which is why it is important that if there is to be automatic extradition under part 1, where none of the offences for category 2 countries are available, we know what those offences will be. If some of them are relatively trivial, perhaps they should not attract automatic extradition under part 1, but under present extradition arrangements that would be acceptable. There is a difference because of the nature of the legislation.

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Mr. Ainsworth: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. I ask him to appreciate that, generally speaking, although not across the piece, sentences imposed in this country are longer than those given by our European partners. We could seek extradition from other jurisdictions for lesser crimes than they could seek extradition for, because the thresholds that apply to their jurisdictions would apply to our requests. I shall compile a list of the UK offences carrying terms that fall between one and three years and distribute it to the Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think about the principle of where the threshold should lie.

Mr. Hawkins: I understand why the Minister feels it necessary to make a party political point about the Opposition on the matter of thresholds, but he should remember that it is not only the Opposition parties that are making this point. The clear and strongly expressed view from the Labour-dominated Select Committee on Home Affairs is the same as ours. The Minister argues that the Opposition say one thing in the House and something else outside. He cannot get away with that. What we are saying is in line with the strongly expressed views of his party colleagues, including the Committee chairman, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who was until recently a Minister in the Government. Therefore, the Opposition are not alone in making these points, and we are not merely trying to score points. We are raising genuine concerns about the threshold, which are shared by a cross-party Select Committee with a huge Labour majority.

Mr. Ainsworth: That is true, but my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South is big enough to stick up for himself and is not responsible for utterances of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. It is the hon. Gentleman who is responsible for voicing the opinions and policies of Her Majesty's Opposition, and who should explain why outside the House he says that we should take more powers to protect our jurisdiction from people from abroad while inside the House he is trying to water down our Extradition Bill.

9.45 am

Mr. Hawkins: I am not trying to water down the Bill. The Minister must understand that there is no inconsistency in my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset saying that our asylum system is a shambles, as he did yesterday after the emergency statement about the tragic and appalling murder of the police officer in Manchester. The Home Secretary has accepted that many things were wrong in the asylum system that he inherited from his predecessor, because he has sought to change it. We have described it as dismantling the house that Jack built. The Minister's boss has agreed with almost everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said and has tried to address the asylum system in the way that we have recommended. When the Foreign Secretary was Home Secretary he disagreed with the arguments that my right hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset and for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) put to him. The Minister has to look carefully at the way in which his boss has started to adopt Conservative policies in tightening up the

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asylum system, and there is no inconsistency between what we are saying outside and inside this place. We are not trying to water down the Bill; we are trying to reflect what the Home Affairs Committee has said, which is that the Bill should reflect the framework decision and the new extradition regime. It is not a watering-down.

Mr. Ainsworth: The issue is clear. We have a current threshold for incoming and outgoing requests. That threshold is set at crimes that attract a sentence of more than 12 months and terms of imprisonment that have more than four months still to run. We are proposing to keep the thresholds as they are for both incoming and outgoing requests. The world has changed since the last time that the threshold was examined, but not in any way that would attract people to increase it. We are talking about serious crimes, and the interests of justice are not served by allowing people to escape justice simply by crossing a border. That case cannot be argued in one direction more than it can in the other.

Mr. Burnett: I am glad that the Minister will send us a letter, and I hope that we get it before Report. Although he has given us some idea of the Government's philosophy on the matter, will he tell us whether, in choosing the one-year period, he is endeavouring to achieve reciprocal arrangements between us and the other category 1 territories?

The Chairman: Before the Minister replies, I remind Members that it is not in order for them to read newspapers and magazines in Committee.

Mr. Ainsworth: There was extensive discussion during the negotiation of the framework decision, and the three-year minimum was set for the dropping of dual criminality. It is for other jurisdictions to decide at what level they want to seek extradition beyond that.

Mr. Burnett: What is the Government's position on that?

Mr. Ainsworth: Our position is clear. When sentences are serious enough to warrant extradition requests, we should follow that if they are serious enough to be more important than the administrative burdens imposed by so doing. It could not be clearer, and we see no reason for lifting the level at which we set that.

Mr. Hawkins: I am glad that I chose to raise a debate on clause 147 standing part of the Bill, because it has produced some useful results. In particular, it has enabled us to get the promise from the Minister, which he was kind enough to make. He has always been courteous and helpful—

Mr. Ainsworth: And cheeky.

Mr. Hawkins: When he has not been cheeky, he has been courteous and helpful in providing things that genuinely help the Committee on serious issues. I know that the Minister recognises that we have serious concerns, which are shared by others, but we do not want to water down the Bill. Had we wanted to water it down, we would have tabled amendments. In opening the clause stand part debate, I made it clear—I hope in a moderate way—that we had not

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tabled amendments because we did not want to water down the Bill, but rather to explore the issue and check that the current law specifies four months, and the Minister has reassured us.

I made it clear that we did not want to make it more difficult for our courts to extradite people back to this country. However, there are differences to debate. We must consider our citizens being at risk from a foreign jurisdiction. Many of my hon. Friends and I, and many people and organisations outside the House, do not have as much faith in some courts and justice systems in other countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon has concerns about the courts of Italy, and I have raised concerns about the courts of Greece, Spain and, potentially, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

We have provided a lot of evidence for our position, but that is a different point. At the moment, we are talking about getting people back to face our courts, with all the protections that our courts provide, and it is entirely appropriate that there should be an easier and quicker way for people to be extradited back to this country to face justice here.

There are differences, and one does not necessarily say that absolutely everything has to match. That is part of the discussion about principle, because we are talking about the protections given by our courts. Nevertheless, the Government have decided that the two sides should match as closely as possible. Unless there are very good reasons why they should not match, I can understand that there is at least a logic to that, although we do not necessarily accept it. I have referred to some of the Select Committee's concerns about the threshold.

Whatever party political points the Minister feels that he needs to make, he knows in his heart of hearts that these are serious issues and that he cannot simply say, ''The Opposition this, the Opposition that.'' He must consider the concerns expressed by the Select Committee, which has a huge Labour majority.

This has been a useful debate, and I am grateful that the Minister will send us the relevant list. We can then return to the issue on Report and in another place, and even those who are non-lawyers will know exactly what we are talking about. It will be useful to hon. Members here on Report, and those in another place, to have the list. I therefore reinforce the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon: we should certainly have the list from the Minister before Report and preferably 48 hours before.

I should be grateful if the Minister would intervene to say that he will at least use his best endeavours to ensure that we have the list at the earliest possible opportunity. He is indicating that he will do that, for which I am grateful. Having had this useful debate, I need not pursue the matter further under clause stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 147 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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