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I can give another example. A doctor fled to the United States using the same loophole to escape prosecution in respect of the death of a child.
Fraudsters, one of whom is wanted for 250 crimes, are also using that get-out-of-jail card. Extradition is prevented in all those cases, and would continue to be prevented if the treaty did not become effective.
I do not believe that any of those cases serve justice, and of course none of them represents justice from the point of view of the victims. Unless the treaty is ratified, justice in those cases and some others cannot and will not happen. Once the new treaty is in place, that loophole will be closed. I do not say that no one can be extradited from the United States at present, but in a number of cases we cannot extradite under the existing arrangements, but will be able to do so under the arrangements I have described.
I am very concerned about the forum issue, and the serious social and legal problems that I envisage if we do not pass the amendment. The Home Secretary says that forum is not in the treaty, and that is why it is offensive to the treaty. He is rightforum is not in the treaty, but it is in the law, and in the Act. The law and the Act provide that if we choose to prosecute someone, our forum will take precedence. How does that not offend the Act, as opposed to saying that if we choose not to prosecute someone we must look at the overall picture before we extradite? I have to tell my right hon. Friend that I do not follow his argument.
John Reid: Let me try to explain, in the spirit of fraternity that always underpins our discussions. I speak without the expertise that my hon. and learned Friend brings to these legal mattersand I mean that truthfully.
My understanding is that forum is not part of the treaty, although it is mentioned in the Act. That means that if we wish to establish it in the treaty, although it may be acceptable to the other party to the treatythat will depend on what we suggestit will nevertheless require a renegotiation of the treaty. That is self-evident. I am not saying that it is not possible, but it will mean a renegotiation, and if it means a renegotiation with the United States, it will also mean a renegotiation of the same forum in the case of 20 other bilateral treaties. We will be prevented not just from ratifying this treaty, but from continuing without renegotiation of those other treaties. I do not consider it acceptable to block the treaty in that manner.
That is not to say, howeverthis might help my hon. and learned Friendthat we could not, outside the treaty, attempt to achieve some guidance on the procedures that we might use in an informal, or less formal than treaty, manner in relation to such an important subject. That is why I have spoken in general terms to the United States Attorney General twice in the past week, and why my noble Friend the
Attorney-General has spoken to him with a view to developing guidance on this subject.
I will not go into all the safeguards that already exist in relation to forum. At present, if there is a case to be held in this country it will take precedence over any request for extradition from the United States.
I am answering my hon. and learned Friends question at some length, because he clearly considers the issue important: so do I, so does the United States Attorney General and so does our Attorney-General. We are not saying that we will not deal with it, but I am asking for us to be able to deal with it outside the treaty, because we can then secure the benefits of the treaty as well as the benefits of clarification on guidance. I hope that that goes some way towards explaining the important issue that my hon. and learned Friend has raised.
John Reid: It would not have the legal status of legislation or of part of the treaty. I fully accept that. However, it constitutes a move towards trying to address the problems that interest and worry my hon. Friend. I would guessI was going to mention this laterthat we will be able to say something about the arrangements in three or four weeks time. I cannot give my hon. Friend the details tonight, but I can tell him that we regard the issue as important, and that we are already addressing it.
Let me now explain the other benefits of the new treaty, apart from those relating to people who are currently hiding from justice. First, let me draw a clear line. Either we have the treaty or we do not, and I do not believe that justice will be served if we do not.
The new treaty will define extraditable offences not by a fixed list of crimes, but by a sentence threshold. That has the advantages of flexibility and dynamism to take account of changing circumstances. We are currently hampered by our inability to chase a criminal for a crime not thought of in 1972. We want to ensure that future-proofing is written into the treaty, making it more effective over a period than a treaty listing extraditable offences by name rather than according to a threshold of seriousness.
The treaty will also allow the extradition of someone who is already serving a prison sentence. For example, at present a murderer serving a whole life sentence in America is highly unlikely ever to be brought to justice for other crimes that he may have committed here. That means that we are selling some British victims of crime short, because they will never see their attackers in the dock. The new treaty will resolve the problem.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Would not the UK victims of a criminal serving a whole-life sentence in the United States be delighted that he would more than likely spend the rest of his life behind bars? They would prefer that to the English system under which, having been given a ludicrously lenient sentence, the criminal would be let out less than halfway through, wearing some sort of a tag and free to commit further offences.
John Reid: I take it that the hon. Gentleman objects to the mandatory revision of sentences, release at given points, mandatory reductions in sentences for pleading guilty and so on. I congratulate him on being several months behind me in saying so publicly, and we are this week issuing a consultation on sentencing [Interruption.] I will proceed, if the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) can calm down a little.
Under the new treaty, provided all the other extradition safeguards are observed, law enforcement agencies will be able to extend the charge sheet against the suspect even if the subsequent charges were not on the original extradition warrant. Obviously, that will be helpful in ensuring that justice is fully served. I fail to see how the House could disagree with any of these measures, as they are entirely sensible. They have the sole purpose of serving justice, and ensuring justice for victims.
I have tried to set out the benefits of the treaty and why allowing the Oppositions amendments to stand would be disastrous for British victims of crime in practical terms. During the weeks and months of discussion, we have tried to address many of the concerns that have been raised, especially the one about forum, which has been raised again tonight. We have tried to do that in a way commensurate with maintaining this treaty, the non-ratification of which was the main objection raised by Opposition Members for weeks and weeks. It is beyond me how they can now take a position that would further delay that ratification.
We have tried to address the concerns in a way that did not further delay the ratification of the treaty. We have moved on issues of concern. I believe that we can say that we have worked hard to speed up ratification in the US. That has been achieved despite the scepticism when Baroness Scotland set off. I hardly think that this is the time to renege on the deal, having asked others to ratify it. The old saying advises being careful of what one asks for, because sometimes one gets it. In this case, the Opposition, here and in the other place, demanded loudly that we get something, and we got it. Now they are upset because we have shot their fox, if I may use that expression after our earlier debate on animal welfare.
It is now time to assert this Chambers independence and prerogative, and our democratic right over the other place. That is not an irrelevant consideration, whatever differences we have between us. If we are to assert our sovereignty in this place, now is the time to do so.
The Home Secretary began his speech with some unusual, but none the less disarming,
honesty when he told us that the amendments that he had tabled in lieu, both in relation to designation of the US and to forum, were utterly meaningless. He does not mean a word of them. They are merely devices. I hope that the House will judge the Home Secretary and his arguments through that filter. We are not here to be abused in that way. We are not here to allow the Executive to ride roughshod over the rights of the House of Commons, still less to ignore the advice of the other place.
I found the Home Secretarys speech breathtaking in its use of Aunt Sallies that have nothing to do with the guts of the treaty or the Bill. He produced a load of utterly irrelevant arguments that had nothing to do with anything other than Labour party propaganda. It was also a nasty and sinister speechunsurprisinglyunderneath which lay an invidious threat that had nothing to do with the duties of Members of Parliament. The Home Secretary said that unless Members did as he advised and kowtowed to the Executive, and unless they agreed to what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) did secretly in March 2003, they would be allowing paedophiles to go free. I have heard some revolting arguments in my time, but that just about takes the biscuit
Let us analyse what the Government seek to persuade us to agree. They say that the US should be designated as a jurisdiction that does not require a prima facie case to be made unless certain things happen within certain periods. We have just heard from the right hon. and very cynical Gentleman that those things will never happen. So the amendment on designation is cynical, meaningless and hollow.
Let us concentrate on the more important amendment which deals with forum. The issue of forum is part of the extradition arrangements that exist between the US and several other jurisdictions, not least Ireland, Denmark and some of the Baltic states. Those countries, I suggest, are somewhat less powerful than the UK, or should be, when it comes to exerting influence on the US. The treaty is not of great military significance. It does not decide whether the west will fall or the east succeed. It is a matter of administration to do with the arrangements by which each jurisdiction permits extradition. Why the Government thought it appropriate to continue to defend the treaty come hell or high water, with this cynical collection of amendments in lieu, when it has so many fundamental flaws, defies logic and explanation.
The Home Secretary sought to rehearse the letter that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member
for Witney (Mr. Cameron) over the weekend, which she saw fit to publish in the newspapers today. Its purport was that unless we do what the Government askor demandwe will be letting paedophiles, murderers and other criminals off scot-free. However, the Government failed to remind the House that the treaty deals with what are called the specialty defences. So those accused of paedophilia in the US many years ago lose the defence of the statute of limitations in respect of those offences. If the Secretary of State thinks that he can persuade those of us who have actually thought about this matter for more than a few seconds that to accept the forum provision and give the judges a discretion to consider whether there is a connection between the crime, the criminal, the evidence and the case as a whole means that in return the US Government will withdraw the specialty reliefs, he demonstrates more about his own negotiating powers than anything else. I invite the House to accept that the Home Secretary, and the Under-Secretary in her letter, have made ridiculous and desperate assertions. They have no knowledge of the details of the cases on which they seek to rely and, in any event, if a prima facie or reasonable cause case can be made, under the old or new treaty, it is highly unlikely that the US would refuse to extradite.
Rob Marris: If the treaty be lost and we go back to the status quo ante, will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House what the position would be regarding forum, particularly in relation to guidance in contradistinction to a legislated position? Tonight, the Home Secretary promised guidance. Is not that what we had under the status quo ante?
Mr. Garnier: First, given the nature of the Home Secretarys speech, I am not sure that his promises are worth waiting for and, secondly, the implied assertion that the introduction of the forum question would destroy the treaty is false. If it were true, the Secretary of State would not have introduced his forum amendment. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have his cake and eat it; either he accepts that the forum argument is worthy of consideration or he does not. He has told us that of course the collection of amendments is utterly bogus andI suggestintellectually dishonest. I am afraid that he will be taken at his word: by the nature of his amendments, he has assumed that forum should be included, and we agree. He has followed our suggestion and I am very happy with that. The only point on which we differ is implementation and its timing.
The Home Secretary has disarmingly honestly, but cynically, admitted that he has absolutely no intention of complying with his implementation timetable, so I do not see why we should allow him to get away with one thing and not the other; he must accept
Mr. Garnier: No, I shall not give way. The Home Secretary spoke for 25 minutes in a 45-minute debate and other Members want to speak [Interruption.] There is no point in the Home Secretary mumbling away; he sauntered into our debate the other day and he has done so again today. The House takes the issue rather more seriously than he does. The House takes justice and fairness rather more seriously than he does and it will not be persuaded by the ridiculous and utterly desperate arguments put by him in todays debate, and by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North in her letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney, that if we do something we shall destroy the whole relationship between us and the United States. That is a feeble and ridiculous argument, and I urge the House to resist it and the Home Secretarys rather tiresome blandishments.
Mr. Heath: Even in the brief time available for the rest of the debate, I want to welcome the fact that the Home Secretary came to the House this evening to give us the benefit of his views. However, I hoped that he would use the opportunity, first, to apologise for the fact that his predecessor had concluded such a hopelessly unequal Bill. Secondly, I hoped he would say that he recognised the deficiencies of the treaty but that there was scope for renegotiation, which he was prepare to undertake, and that he would then come back to the House with a greatly improved treaty. Thirdly, I hoped he would say that he recognised the deficiencies in the Houses protocols for dealing with ratification of treaties and that he would hold talks with the Leader of the House to ensure that we had a better way of looking at treaties in future so that such things would not occur again.
Sadly, we have heard none of those things from the Home Secretary, which is hardly surprising, because it was well trailed in advance that today was the day when he would lead an assault on the Tories for being soft on crime. If that is what he chooses to do, we have no means of stopping him in the context of this important consideration of Lords amendmentsbut if his way of exercising his choice is to present in lieu of the Lords amendments words that he admits are entirely bogus and have no effect, and to ask the House to conclude that that is a satisfactory response to those in another place who are trying desperately to improve the law of the land, he does a disservice to the House. Indeed, he holds the House and the other place in contempt, which is a most unfortunate state of affairs.
As the House knows, we have always argued against the treaty because we believe that it contains fundamental inequalities. We have voted against it from the outset because we believe that it needs to be renegotiated. We have not called for its early ratification because we do not believe in ratifying a treaty based on such unequal terms, and we are no more satisfied with it now than we were in the first place.
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