Extradition Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman deviates in one element from what is actual fact. He does so in his last sentence when he refers to what we are putting forward. That is what is already in law and has been in law for some considerable time. We are saying that we have not heard an argument yet to say that we should narrow this. I do not think that that is the drift of needs. There is no obligation on us to do that. As travel becomes easier and more common and as people flow more freely across the borders, the criminal justice system needs to behave in response to that, not the reverse.

Mr. Maples: I take the Minister up on the point that this has been the law for several years. He may be suggesting that we introduced it. Surely the difference is the European framework document and the introduction of automatic extradition. If the protections of dual criminality and the Home Secretary's discretion were in place, we would not be making the point so strongly. Because of the European framework document, and the automatic extradition that will now take place, we are looking closely at its terms. That is the difference. I am not saying that it is wrong but there is a difference, and that is what it is.

11.15 am

Mr. Ainsworth: The basic difference is that we shall be removing the ability to delay and prevaricate in extradition proceedings to other ECHR countries. The hon. Gentleman appears to be arguing that delay and prevarication have provided a safeguard that is being removed and that we should, therefore, introduce other safeguards. He, more than any other member of this Committee, has railed against prevarication and

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undue delay in extradition proceedings. There is a bit of a circle to be squared in his argument.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is being unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. He has spoken about toughening up in certain respects, but also about safeguards. But it is not just my hon. Friend or me—the Select Committee has also made the point that when one is redrafting the whole of extradition law and making many more things automatic, and removing some safeguards and some of the dual criminality provisions, one needs to look again at thresholds. The Minister does his cause no service by making a simplistic attack on our detailed arguments.

When we have discussed extraditing people back to this country, the Minister has put a lot of stress on making sure that we get back the big villains—the bank robbers, the kind of people who flea to the costa del crime. We agree that there ought to be an easier way to get serious criminals back to this country. However, they are the sorts of people who have committed offences that will attract sentences not of three years but of 20 years or life imprisonment. We do not want situations to arise, as has happened under existing law, in which people are extradited to places such as Belgium and the Czech Republic for trivial offences that attract no sentence. Under pressure from British solicitors such cases are dropped because the offences are so trivial. However, in the meantime, British citizens have wrongly been in custody for lengthy periods. That is what we are talking about.

Mr. Ainsworth: This is well-trodden ground. It does not need to be gone over at great length. The hon. Gentleman's rhetoric says that we should be dealing with serious criminals, not with trivial matters. His position on the Bill, as we discussed earlier, would have the effect of imposing a lengthier system on serious criminals unless they are terrorists or can be proven to have a terrorist motivation for the serious crimes that they commit. We have tried to explain the problems of definition, but to no avail; that is his position, even if his rhetoric says something slightly different.

I should like to address one other specific point. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath made a detailed intervention about extradition to Italy. He has had representations from people about the way in which the Italian justice system operates, which is very different from ours. I would remind him that I have already made a commitment to see whether we can find new wording for clause 2(3)(a) to make it clearer, if possible, that extradition can be sought only for an accusation, not for the purposes of investigation or interrogation. We are extraditing people to Italy now and have been doing so for a long time. All the arguments that he puts forward suggest that we ought not to be able to do that, and that we should not do it, because people are treated in an inappropriate way in Italy and it is not a jurisdiction that can be trusted to deal properly with people. If that is so, why have we been extraditing people and why have we dropped the requirement for prima facie evidence to be available in this country? The framework document is clear about the purposes of extradition. We have tried to draft the

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Bill to make it clear; we shall look again at the purposes of clause 2(3)(a) to see whether we can pick up on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman's amendment.

I turn briefly to the question of mutual recognition, in response to the hon. Member for Henley. He seems to be saying that British citizens cannot be expected to have detailed knowledge of the law when abroad, and said that we will expose people to legal uncertainty. I have never heard Conservative Members seriously argue, in debates on this or other Bills, that ignorance of the law is an excuse for breaking it. The hon. Gentleman did not give a direct response to my question about whether, when in Spain or France, he should abide by Spanish or French law or whether he ought to ignore it and abide by British law instead. His argument was that he should be able to do exactly that—that he was a British citizen and that he should be obliged only to know the British law—and that those pesky foreigners should not expect him to understand their laws or expect him to abide by them.

We could go into detail about extra-territoriality. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that we are able to claim it. We have increased the areas where we seek to claim extra-territoriality—for instance, in computer crime as a result of changes in technology, and in other areas of criminality as a result of a widening in the international nature of crime. However, the hon. Gentleman said that we should be able to claim them, but that other jurisdictions should not; and that we should never have accepted them. He would not even answer the basic question about whether he ought to be subject to another set of laws when in another country, which goes to the heart of the Bill.

Conservative Members seem to be saying that the mere fact of being able easily to cross a border somehow changes the principles of justice. When in Spain, people should abide by Spanish law; but if they can escape back to Britain, we would say that Spanish law does not meet certain minimum requirements, and we are not prepared to extradite people to Spain to face the charge that they had broken the law while there.

Mr. Johnson: I do not mean that criminals should be able to flee back to England after having committed crimes in Spain. I mean only that they should understand that the crime is also an offence in Britain. We are asking for dual criminality, and for the Home Secretary to be able to arbitrate in cases where dual criminality does not exist.

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Mr. Ainsworth: I do not think that that was the purport of most of the hon. Gentleman's argument. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East, he said that he would not expect the Home Secretary to be the final arbiter of what was just or unjust. We would expect the High Court to decide that, yet he is not prepared to accept the Spanish high court as the final arbiter for crimes committed in Spain—or that a French high court should so act for crimes committed or alleged to have been committed in France. I ask the Committee to reject the new clauses, and to agree that clause 193 stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: We have had a thorough debate. I do not seek to take up more of the Committee's time. We do not accept the Minister's arguments. We maintain all the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stratford-on-Avon and for Henley, which were amplified by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon and, to an extent, paradoxically supported by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East. We shall press for a Division. If I may, Miss Begg, I ask for separate votes on new clauses 7 and 8 and on clause 193 stand part.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 4.

Division No. 19]

AYES
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob Campbell, Mr. Alan Crausby, Mr. David Dobbin, Jim
Harris, Mr. Tom Howarth, Mr. George Hughes, Mr. Kevin Twigg, Derek

NOES
Hawkins. Mr. Nick Johnson, Mr. Boris
Maples, Mr. John Watkinson, Angela

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 193 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: On a point of order, Miss Begg. May I ask whether the votes that I have asked for on new clauses 7 and 8 start immediately we return in the afternoon?

The Chairman: No, they will come in the normal way, at the end.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Begg, Miss Anne (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Burnett, Mr.
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Carmichael, Mr.
Crausby, Mr.
Dobbin, Jim
Harris, Mr. Tom

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Hawkins, Mr.
Howarth, Mr. George
Hughes, Mr. Kevin
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Maples, Mr.
Twigg, Derek
Watkinson, Angela

 
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