Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: Why could the law not be framed so that provisional arrest could apply only to very serious crimes such as terrorism or murder? The Minister keeps saying that the provision will be only rarely used, but the significance of the arrest warrant is that it applies to many offences that are not regarded as serious. Some of us object to that balance—the freedom to extradite someone to another country for relatively minor offences. I have made the point again and again that we should bear in mind the way in which justice works; a person facing legal procedures in another country is at a natural disadvantage. The Minister always wants to concentrate on murder and terrorism, but our argument is actually about the lesser offences.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Will the noble Lord take this point? How many cases has he come across in which a situation such as he describes has been abused in the past? Frankly, I cannot see that there have been such situations. In fact, something not too dissimilar to these provisions currently operates.

I have said clearly to the Committee that the measure will be used only in very few circumstances—hardly ever—and only when an extreme outrage has been committed and it is plain that an arrest warrant will be issued.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: That is not what the Bill says—it does not say that the provision is only for serious offences. Furthermore, what makes the situation different is that extradition will be much easier. It will apply also to offences that are not offences in British law. The principle of double criminality is being abolished.

18 Jun 2003 : Column GC349

It is all very well for the Minister to shake his head and say that it is all very theoretical, but we know what can happen. People suddenly turn around and say, "Oh my goodness, we've got to change the law because such and such has happened and we never thought it would be used in this way". The Minister gives an example of someone who has robbed a bank, but let us suppose that some football fans behave very badly and in a xenophobic way at a football match. The police pursue them, trying to arrest them, but the fans get on the ferry and come back. Will they be placed under provisional arrest in Canterbury, for example, when they arrive after crossing the Channel?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It depends on the circumstances of the case. The noble Lord is trying to construct a broader case based on some fallacious thinking. Let us focus on some practicalities. If the full papers are not produced at a hearing within 48 hours of the arrest, the person must be discharged. That means that there is obviously a safeguard.

Lord Goodhart: Is there anything in Clauses 5 and 6 to prevent the following scenario from happening? The French authorities ring up Inspector Knacker of the Yard and say, "Will you arrest this man? We promise that we will get you the papers within 48 hours". The inspector arrests the man, the French authorities fail to get the papers there within 48 hours and the man has to be discharged. However, just before he is discharged, the French ring up Inspector Knacker and say, "Look, I'm sorry we haven't made it in time, but we absolutely promise you that we will get it to you in another 48 hours, so please arrest this man again, as soon as he is discharged". Is there anything in the Bill to prevent that from happening? Is it contemplated that that is permissible?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My understanding of the clause is that that will not do.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: Why?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Because the authorities will not have conformed with that part of the legislation and the person will have to be discharged. If the papers are not properly there within that 48-hour period, the person will have to be discharged.

Lord Goodhart: The person could be discharged, but what is to prevent him from being re-arrested if there is a promise that the papers will be there within the next 48 hours from then?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: In those circumstances, my understanding is that the promise will not do. The noble Lord has raised a good question; clearly, we need to be absolutely clear about it and we will seek to clarify the matter before we move on to the next stage of the legislation.

This is an important part of the legislation for us to retain. I have made the case that it will be used only in exceptional circumstances. It will be very rarely used, but the law enforcement agencies clearly believe that it

18 Jun 2003 : Column GC350

is important, and we as a Government believe that it is important. In the kinds of cases that I have described, it will be very important indeed. We are not dealing only with people moving from France or from mainland Europe over here. It is worth remembering that we also have a land border, and a scenario could well occur with someone crossing the border from the Republic of Ireland. In those circumstances, if a particular outrage had been committed and there was a need for law enforcement to act swiftly, the words in the Bill would have a real meaning and significance.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: Why not then draft the legislation so that these powers apply to serious offences such as terrorism and murder?

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: Before my noble friend the Minister concludes, why does he not go away and draft what he says he wants? The provision at present allows someone to be unjustly, unfairly, improperly and provisionally arrested, re-arrested and re-arrested. With the greatest respect, it appals me that a Labour Minister does not seem to care that one individual can suffer that fate.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I, like all members of the Labour Party, care a great deal about people's civil liberties. I do not take offence at the noble Lord's concern about those things, because he clearly shares my concerns as well. However, he made the point earlier that we have the responsibility to ensure that we protect the public from serious criminals.

The challenge has been made that we should restrict the measure to serious criminal acts. There may well be other criminal acts of importance and significance in which it is right to use the facility that this particular part of the legislation provides to law enforcement agencies.

I have made the case clearly, in terms of the practical effect of using the law and its impact on real people in real circumstances. I made the point very clearly that there will probably be very limited circumstances in which it will need to be used, when law enforcement agencies will need to move quickly. However, it is important that the provision is there.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: The hour is late, but I should like to say three things. The debate that we have had on this group of amendments underlines why my party believes that the Part 1 arrest warrant is not needed. We believe that what can be achieved should be achieved through Part 2. Most of the safeguards that have been requested by Members of the Committee are available in Part 2. Part 1 is superfluous and gets the balance wrong. We have suggested that in extremis a major offence such as terrorism could be included, but that only shows why Part 1 is misconceived.

The Minister gave the game away when he used the word "shortly". That is how his Home Office team thinks about matters such as these; it must always be "shortly" and quick, and we have seen why it will not

18 Jun 2003 : Column GC351

necessarily be quick. I will be interested to see whether the Government introduce an amendment that says "shortly". That would be interesting.

The Minister told the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, that the measure would be used infrequently. However, times change and new Ministers come along. We are supposed to be making sure that we look after and guard civil liberties. The balance is all over the place as regards the provisional arrest. I hope that

18 Jun 2003 : Column GC352

the Minister will go away and think about how we can get the measure into better shape before Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Filkin: This might be a convenient moment to propose that the Committee adjourns until tomorrow at 3.45 p.m.

        The Committee adjourned at twenty-two minutes before eight o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page