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The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, may I take the opportunity to inform the House that I will be undertaking a ministerial visit to the Isle of Man on Monday 7th July? I will also be attending an all-day Cabinet meeting on Thursday 10th July. Accordingly, I trust the House will grant me leave of absence on both these occasions.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, US extradition law does not allow the United States to abolish the prima facie evidential requirement. We are not in the same position. We see no reason why a lack of reciprocity should prevent us from removing the prima facie evidential requirement for incoming requests when it is to our mutual advantage to do so.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, do the Government understand that there is very great concern about abolishing the prima facie evidence rule except on a fully reciprocal basis? Do the Government understand that there is also great concern about abolishing that requirement at all in relation to the USA given the unacceptably low standards of criminal justice in some states such as Texas?
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that all the countries that she mentioned are governed by the broad principles of European Union conventions and those of the Council of Europe? Can she comment on whether, given the significance of the extradition treaty which raises serious issues, the case is not strengthened for this House to have a Select Committee on treaties in line with the position of the United States Senate which has the right to advise and consent on treaty issues? Does the Minister recall that Members of this House as distinguished as the noble Lords, Lord Alexander and Lord Wakeham, and, indeed, other senior Members of this House, have on occasion over the years pleaded for a Select Committee? Would she herself support such an initiative?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is always open to the House to decide whether it is appropriate to have a Select Committee. The noble Baroness rightly identifies many of the very distinguished Members of this House. Indeed, not one Member sits on these Benches without sharing that distinction. Both Houses of Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise the treaty in due course as the matter will come before the House. At the moment that appears to be the most appropriate way of dealing with the matter. If there are other matters that the House wishes to consider in due course, that is something for the future.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that she did not see why we should insist on reciprocity when that was to our mutual advantage. Can she explain to the House why it is to our mutual advantage to concede this measure to the Americans when they have not conceded it to us? Surely by conceding it to them unilaterally we remove any power or pressure we have to persuade them to modify their law if we give it up empty-handed?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have negotiated a very good treaty with our American partners without there being a need to impose the reciprocal arrangements. We have been able to do thatit is advantageous to usbecause they are the major partners with whom we operate and have operated historically. The provision that we have established with our American partners is better than
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a number of Members of your Lordships' House have been, and still are, engaged in the discussion of the Extradition Bill related to the European Union? We are endeavouring to ensure through a series of amendments that human rights are adequately protected. Will we have a similar opportunity in relation to the extradition treaty with the United States?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I have already said, both Houses will have an opportunity to debate the matter when it comes before them. We shall have an opportunity to consider the specific provision.
Lord Elton: My Lords, in the light of the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the noble Baroness said that we had gained significant advantages by ceding this particular concession. Can she say what they are?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it relates to the way in which the returns will take place. Your Lordships will know, as I say, that the USA is the UK's largest single extradition partner. In 2002, we surrendered 12 people to the United States and have had three returned from there. Noble Lords will know that in the past this has been a difficult, complex and long drawn out procedure. The new procedure that we have in place will enable us to have exchanges with the United States far quicker than we would otherwise have done. That is a real advantage to us.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Select Committee of the European Union's subcommittee, of which I am a member, has expressed great concern about the EU/US extradition arrangements in terms of human rights and civil liberties? Can the Minister explain why the bilateral treaty with the United States has far fewer safeguards of human rights, except in relation to the death penalty, than even the EU/US treaty which at least protects the constitutional principles of European states in relation to extradition to the United States for what is an offence punishable only by one year's imprisonment?
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, that was not my question. I refer to the treaty that we are now debating the future treaty that has not yet been ratified, not the existing treaty. Why does that not contain at least the same safeguards as the EU treaty?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that while the United States may be one of the greatest democracies in the world, some of the methods it uses in relation to people in prison, particularly in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, cause many of us a great deal of worry? Can she say how this treaty will be discussed within the House of Commons and this House? Will it be on the basis of an Order in Council or will we need primary legislation?
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, tackling the scourge of torture is a priority for the Government reflected in the anti-torture initiative we began in 1998. Our funding of projects and organisations varies from year to year. We support the UN Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture although we decreased our funding last year while increasing funding on human rights projects overall by £1 million. Decisions on next year's funding are under consideration.
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