I am equally stung by the assertion that those who criticise the Governments approach are anti-American. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman as
struck as I am by the report of the American Bar Associations symposium last year? The Las Vegas transcript of the symposium shows the US authorities almost incredulous at how far Britain has bent to accommodate their demands. One participant marvelled that a hearsay affidavit by the prosecutor was enough and that they did not even have to provide witness affidavits.
Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is right. Other distinguished American lawyers have repeatedly made similar points. They cannot believe that this country so readily agreed to such a one-sided set of arrangements.
The Solicitor-General referred rather contemptuously to what he described as a fracas that I had with the President of the United States when I was Leader of the Opposition. It is true that I had a disagreement with the President of the United States, but the Solicitor-General appears to believe that there is something dishonourable or embarrassing about taking a view different from that of the President of the United States. The difference between him and me is that I do not believe that to maintain good relations between this country and the United States, it is necessary for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to be a poodle of the President of the United States.
The case that has given rise to the debate and the widespread concern behind it involves three British subjects who are accused of a crime committed in this country, largely against their British employers, who do not wish to press charges. The prosecuting authorities in this country do not wish to press charges, either. My hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General referred to article 7.1 of the European convention on extraditionthe forum clause, which obliges the court to take account of the matters that I described. If it had been incorporated in the 2003 Act, as it is in the extradition arrangements between the Irish Republic and the United States, it is at least open to questionI put it no more strongly; we cannot know the outcomewhether those men would have been extradited.
It would surely be an affront to our standards of justice and everything that the House should defend if those men found themselves in a Texas jail for up to two years before even having the opportunity to answer the charges against them.
The Solicitor-General: I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the same opportunity as I gave the shadow Attorney-General to explain why, if the forum clause is so important, the Conservative Government decided not to include it in their 1989 legislation.
Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) answered that point. The circumstances were differentit was necessary to establish a prima facie case, and the Home Secretary had a residual discretion to refuse extradition.
Perhaps I can deal with the other question that the Solicitor-General and the Leader of the House posed about why my party abstained and did not oppose the arrangements when they came before the House. With the benefit of hindsight I wish that we had not
abstained, but the Solicitor-General and the Leader of the House appear to contend that we should have known better than to rely on assurances from members of the Government. They are right: we should have known better. Next time they ask us to rely on assurances from their colleagues, I have no doubt that my Front-Bench colleagues will remember their words today.
Mr. Redwood: The expertise of my right hon. and learned Friend on such matters is renowned and he is making a powerful case. However, is not the crucial point the fact that there is no charge pending and apparently no intention of charging those people in Britain, where the alleged events took place? That shows how supine the Government are. They will not stand up for innocent British citizens against the arbitrary use of power elsewhere.
Mr. Howard: My right hon. Friend is right. The Solicitor-General appeared to regard it as important that several potential witnesses were in the United States. He has apparently overlooked the invention of the aeroplane and the possibility of bringing people from the United States, as frequently happens, to give evidence in this countrys courts. There is no reason why that should present difficulties.
The Prime Minister referred to the assurances that have been given about bail. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) asked about that earlier in the debate. It has been said that the United States prosecuting authorities will not oppose bail if the three men comply with appropriate conditionsI believe that I have quoted the Prime Minister correctly. What are appropriate conditions? The American courts will determine them, and we have no reason to suppose that they will depart from their precedents for what conditions are regarded as appropriate. Indeed, it would be extraordinary if they did so. We know that it is customary for American courts to demand the posting of a high value bond and to set onerous conditions before bail is granted.
I fear that, in the light of what has been said this afternoon, we will not be so easily taken in by the Prime Ministers assurances. It behoves us in future to be considerably more sceptical about assurances from the Prime Minister and other members of the Government.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Prime Ministers efforts in connection with bail highlight the inadequacies of the arrangements. If we could have confidence in the treaty and if it was founded on the principles of justice, we would not have to witness the spectacle of Law Officers running around trying to pauchle bail on the other side of the Atlantic.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way twice. I want to
refer to my earlier point. He gave me an answer that he may wish to reconsider. He said that he and the Conservative Government did not include a forum clause in the protections in the Extradition Act 1989 because of a requirement for a prima facie case. However, the 1989 Act incorporated the provisions of the European convention, the key provision of which was the removal of the requirement for a prima facie case. It does not therefore make sense to claim that there was a requirement for a prima facie case. The 1989 Act removed that requirement in relation to European countries.
Mr. Howard: I was not in the Home Office in 1989, and I therefore had nothing to do with the Act. However, the point that I made to the Solicitor-General when he referred to other European countries is relevant. Our arrangements with other European countries are entirely reciprocal. We are considering our arrangements with the United States. The point has been made repeatedly and clearly in the debate that the arrangements with the United States are not reciprocal.
It is not too late for the injustice to be averted. It would be perfectly possible for the Government to introduce emergency legislation to remove the United States from the list of countries designated in the Extradition Act 2003. It would not take long. It could be done in an hour in the House and an hour in the other place. The Government should take that action without delay.
I submitted a petition to the previous Home Secretary in October last year. It was signed by 18,000 people who wanted to express concern about a constituent of mine. I realise that this debate has been allowed because of the concern felt by parliamentarians, the business community and ordinary lay citizens about the case of the so-called NatWest three who, under the terms of the UK-US extradition treaty, will board a plane for Texas tomorrow. I fully understand the huge amount of publicity that that case has generated, with or without a PR company, but I want to speak on behalf of my constituent. He faces extradition to the US, but he has not garnered the same amount of publicity in the mainstream or financial press. He is not photogenic, middle class or white, but it is important that I put on record my constituents concerns about his treatment.
Babar Ahmad is of a similar age to me and, like me, he was born and raised in Tooting. I have known him on and off for the past 12 or 13 years. Other hon. Members, including the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), have spoken about the NatWest three facing two years of custody in Texas, but Babar Ahmad has already spent two years in custody in this country, in Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons.
Some Opposition Members have explained their abstention in the vote on the treaty on the grounds that
they thought that it applied only to terrorists. They have said that they did not realise that it would involve bankers being sent to America. That presents a problem for the people who have signed the petition about Babar Ahmad, and it is one reason why some of us have expressed concern that there are parallel judicial systems in this countryone for so-called terrorists, and another for so-called ordinary criminals. Like the NatWest three, Babar Ahmad should be presumed innocent until he is found guilty. Moreover, he is in fact innocent, as I shall explain later.
Mr. Khan: Thank you for that clarification, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The case is sub judice, as it comes before the High Court this week, so I shall not refer to it. Instead, I shall concentrate on the general matters of principle arising out of the extradition treaty.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman must be clear that he cannot refer in any way to a case that is before the High Court at the present time. He can talk only on the general subject of the extradition treaty, and must make no reference to that particular case.
None of us can say, with our hands on our hearts, whether the three people facing extradition to the US at present are innocent or not, but it is clear that the British police and the Serious Fraud Office have decided not to charge or prosecute them in the UK. The Crown Prosecution Service has done the same thing, where it has been the appropriate prosecuting authority. To me, that is a good indication of innocence, but the more important question has to do with principle and perceived injustice.
People who are subject to extradition say that they are happy to face the music here in the UK. Other hon. Members have said that they are not against extradition as such, but that they do oppose the principle that underlies it. However, when all the evidence in a case has been collected in this country and all the people involved have remained in this country at all times, it seems appropriate for them to be tried here. That is the point of the forum clause to which reference was made earlier in the debate.
People who express concern about the current extradition treaty have been caricatured as somehow anti-American. That is unfair. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) referred to the case of Lotfi Raissi, of which I know that Ministers are well aware. That case took place before the new UK-US extradition treaty, and the high thresholds then in place meant that it was possible to ascertain that the evidence underlying the extradition claim was flawed.
If I remember correctly, that case revolved around a question of identity. Similar
evidentiary standards applied as in extradition cases, so it is very unlikely that a different decision would have been reached if the case had arisen after the extradition treaty had been agreed. I know that my hon. Friend is familiar with these matters, but I suspect that that is what would have happened.
Mr. Khan: I am afraid that the Solicitor-General is wrong about that. The evidence in that case was challenged, something that could not happen under the new regime. However, I do not want to speak about a single case, as I am interested in the principle underlying these matters.
Mr. Redwood: Will the hon. Gentleman accept an assurance from me that Opposition Members think that justice must be blind to status, colour, creed and everything else? The point that we are making today would apply to anyone: people who are thought to have committed an offence in Britain should be tried here by a proper prosecuting authority. If they are not found guilty as a result, they are innocent.
Mr. Khan: I cannot accept the blanket assurance that the right hon. Gentleman offers, since some Opposition Members today have said that they abstained two years ago because they believed that the cases of people charged with terrorist offences would go through on the nod. Quite rightly, the Lotfi Raissi case has been widely trailed in the press and attracted a great deal of attention, but what about all the other cases involving people facing extradition?
Mr. Hogg: May I assure the hon. Gentleman that many Opposition Membersincluding my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and Imade very powerful arguments against the use of Belmarsh prison? We were entirely blind to the colour or the ethnic provenance of the people held in Belmarsh. The use of that prison was wrong, and we have said so repeatedly.
Mr. Khan: I do not question for one second the right hon. and learned Gentlemans commitment on these issues. I was asked to accept a blanket assurance about the attitude of Opposition Members on these matters, and I have explained why I cannot do so.
Concerns have been expressed in the debate about the reciprocity of the treaty. I accept that the evidentiary thresholds in two different legal jurisdictions will not be exactly identical, but people are worried that we have lowered the threshold and that it is not now possible to challenge prima facie evidence. Reference has been made to article 8 of the treaty, and to the forum clause. That provision relates to people who have never left the UK and to evidence that has been found only in the UK. The evidence that the US is relying on in the NatWest three case was obtained as a result of a search carried out in the UK, so why are the people involved not being charged in the UK?
Like other speakers, I confined myself to the three people due to be sent to the US this week. That is because I realised that other cases are sub
judice, as Mr. Deputy Speaker made clear earlier; otherwise, does my hon. Friend accept that I would have included those other cases in my remarks?
Mr. Khan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, I am happy to give a blanket assurance that I accept that everyone on this side of the House will be consistent when it comes to issues of justice.
The press coverage this week has described the steps taken by my noble Friend Baroness Scotland to persuade colleagues in the US Senate to ratify the treaty. I hope that Ministers will understand that those of us making representations about these matters are not anti-American, but the lack of ratification has caused increased anti-American feeling around the country. That is unfortunate, because we merely want to ensure that we have an extradition treaty that is consistent and fair, irrespective of who is being extradited and of the offence that has been committed.
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): I begin by saying how much I share the views of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) and by reminding him of the many times we have shared platforms in defence of our respective constituents.
Mr. Khan: I exclude completely from previous remarks the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) who has become a friendwith a small fand who has been consistent in his concern about the issue before us.
I think all of us agree, on both sides, that this issue has nothing to do with what kind of person may be involved or what kind of constituent presents himself or herself before us. It is an issue of justice and reciprocity, and that is why it is arousing such strong passions across the country. We are all starting to see those feelings expressed in our e-mail in-boxes, and the Minister should be aware of them, as I am sure he increasingly is.
The feeling prompting the rage and fury that surrounds this issue, and which has actuated many comments in the debate, is, I am afraid to say, a certain anti-Americanism. On that, I agree with the Government: anti-American points are sometimes scored in this debate, and that is a great shame. It is sad and regrettable, and it is all the more reason why the best and kindest thing we could do for the special relationship, for which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) has laboured so long and on which he has spoken so eloquently, is to remove injustice and asymmetry and to restore confidence in the British people that their extradition arrangements with America are fair to them.