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International Arrest Warrants

2. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Whether his Department is planning to amend the law on international arrest warrants. [50391]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): The Government are currently considering a range of issues relating to the issuing of arrest warrants in international cases, but have not yet concluded what changes, if any, are required to current legislation. Any proposals for amending the current legislation would be a matter for Parliament.

Dr. Starkey: The Minister will be aware of press reports that the Government are considering removing the right of an individual victim to apply to the magistrates court for an arrest warrant against the alleged perpetrator of war crimes. If that right were removed, does he agree that it would leave it open for the UK Government to decide not to proceed against certain alleged war criminals simply because to do so might embarrass a foreign Government? Does he agree that that does not square with the Government's duty, under the Geneva convention, of universal jurisdiction?

Andy Burnham: Let me begin by assuring my hon. Friend that the Government stand firm behind the principle of the international arrest warrant system and are clear that the UK will never provide safe haven to those guilty of atrocities, but she refers to the process by which international arrest warrants are secured. They can be applied for and granted to private individuals by a district judge, the effect of which is that someone can be arrested and detained with no immediate prospect of any charge being brought. The balance must be right, and the question is whether the prosecuting authority that is required to bring the case should have a role in whether the person is arrested, but I have heard what my
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hon. Friend has said, as has the Home Secretary, and we will, of course, take her views on board in taking the matter forward.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What discussions has the Home Office had recently with the Israeli Government about General Almog? Is the Home Office in discussion with other countries about the enforcement of international arrest warrants on their citizens?

Andy Burnham: The Home Office has had discussions with the Israeli authorities, following the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and has held discussions with a range of parties who have had an interest in that case. As I mentioned in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), the issue is whether there is an inconsistency and whether the authorities that would be responsible for bringing a prosecution should have a role in the arrest. It is important to point out that we may be talking about individuals who are not normally resident in the UK and are not under investigation by the British police, and there could be very real practical difficulties in bringing evidence to this country about whether a prosecution should happen here. My point is simply about whether it is right that the prosecuting authorities have a role in deciding whether an arrest should take place in the first place, given that that would deprive an individual of their liberty for a serious amount of time.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that, if someone from another country comes here and it is found through the great good sense of a district judge that the person may be guilty of war crimes, it is our duty as a nation to prosecute them properly and that, in considering whether the law should be changed, we should weigh in the balance very heavily the great good sense and experience of district judges?

Andy Burnham: I can say to my hon. Friend that of course the Government remain absolutely committed to the principle that those guilty of atrocities should not find a safe haven in this country. I would also say to her, though, that the duty to prosecute those accused of atrocities falls quite rightly to the public authorities of this country. In hearing what she says and in agreeing with her that the onus needs to be on ensuring that those responsible face up to their actions, we need to consider whether the public authorities that would be responsible for mounting any prosecution should have a role in deciding whether that person should be arrested at the beginning of the process.

Police Restructuring

3. Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): What discussions his Department has had with police authorities in the north-east of England about the start-up and running costs of the proposed amalgamated police force. [50392]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): We have been working closely with the police authorities in the north-east and the
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Association of Police Authorities nationally. We have received business cases from the north-east region, which include both start-up and ongoing costs. We have been working with experts on the financial detail of those business cases to assess the costs of merger. The Home Secretary and myself met with chief constables and chairs from the north-east on 6 February to discuss the way forward.

Mr. Beith: Given that Northumbria council tax payers currently have a police force that meets Government criteria in both size and performance, what indication can the right hon. Lady give of the amount by which council tax will rise in the Northumbria area, first, so that it equalises the precepts of the other forces and, secondly, to meet the start-up costs of reorganisation? What figure does she suggest?

Hazel Blears: First, as the right hon. Gentleman will recognise, the protective services assessment from Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary says that the one viable option to go forward is a regional strategic force. I also emphasise that the Northumbria police force's case said:

Although the right hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about financing and the equalisation of precepts, I remind him that this is about trying to get improved services for the people of Northumbria, as well as those across the region. We have a working group that is looking at start-up and precept costs, as well as ongoing costs, and we are looking at a number of different models, but this is about not simply having a larger force, but being able to release resources to invest in better policing for the people in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency and the rest of the region.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): The cost of the four regional mergers that the Home Secretary announced last week has been estimated at over £177 million. Once again, the Government are proceeding with restructuring without any idea of the cost, which will fall largely on local taxpayers. When asked about mergers on 25 January, the Prime Minister said:

If any of the police authorities in the affected regions object to being amalgamated, will the Minister therefore give an undertaking, in accordance with the Prime Minister's pledge, not to force those mergers through compulsorily? Or is it, once again, a question of the Prime Minister's words counting for nothing?

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong when he asserts that we do not have regard to the costs. In many cases, the costs that are coming in look as though they will achieve payback over a period of two or three years, not the 10 or 20 years that was first assessed. As long ago as 1993, his party said:

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That was his party then, and the leader of his party has recently said—

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is it.

Emergency Services Personnel

4. Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): How many of those convicted of a criminal offence in the last year for which figures are available were employed within the emergency services at the time of their offence. [50393]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): Statistics are not maintained centrally on the occupation of persons convicted of criminal offences. Figures collated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission indicate that in the last year for which figures are available—2003–04—177 police officers were convicted of criminal offences, 122 of which were traffic offences.

Jeremy Wright: I thank the Minister for that answer, but may I invite him to look at the issue from a slightly different angle? He will know that post-traumatic stress disorder is increasingly being recognised in the emergency services generally and in the police force particularly and that, in some cases, it can lead to domestic violence, alcoholism and, through that, to other offences. Will he look into what his Department is doing to ensure that those who have post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly in the police force, are looked after and supported to ensure that the consequences of that condition are minimised wherever possible?

Paul Goggins: I thank the hon. Gentleman for a very constructive suggestion, which I will consider carefully. I am very happy to discuss the matter with him in greater detail. I am pleased that the thrust of his question is one of support for people in our emergency services. They face some very difficult situations and they need good occupational health and the kind of support that he described. I very much welcome his proposal.

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