Enterprise Bill

[back to previous text]

Miss Johnson: The amendment would remove the possibility of extradition for conspiracy or attempt to commit a cartel offence. The inchoate offences of attempt or conspiracy to commit an offence apply

Column Number: 188

automatically by virtue of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 and the Criminal Law Act 1977. The UK law recognises that conspiring to commit a crime and an attempt to commit a crime are serious and should not be put beyond the reach of the law. Prosecuting such offences is an important aspect of deterring criminals and enables investigatory bodies to step in and prevent the crime from being carried out and harming millions of customers and other businesses.

For example, if two senior employees of the same company come together to agree a plan to contact other competitors to agree to fix prices, a conspiracy offence has been committed. The UK law recognises the importance of including those offences. We believe that we should not diminish their seriousness by removing from the scope a possible extradition request. We also believe that it is important for international judicial co-operation and combating cross-border crime to allow for extradition, not only for the substantive offence but for the conspiracy to commit and the attempt to commit the offence. That will act as a strong deterrent to criminals and send a strong signal that nobody should escape justice simply by crossing a national border.

There are four categories of UK extradition partners: the European convention on extradition partners, Commonwealth partners and Hong Kong bilateral treaty partners where the treaty was signed after 1989 and bilateral treaty partners where the treaty was signed before 1989. With regard to the first three groups of extradition partners, no specific measures are required to be added to new criminal offences such as this one in order to be able to extradite under other provisions of the Extradition Act 1989.

In respect of those three groups, the criteria for extradition are that the offence carries a sentence of imprisonment of 12 months or more and dual criminality applies. Both criteria must be satisfied in respect of this offence. Therefore, the proposed amendment would not affect any of these groups of extradition partners. It would not make sense to exclude the offences for the group with whom the UK signed bilateral agreements before 1989, particularly the United States. I therefore hope to persuade Opposition Members to withdraw the amendment.

5 pm

The hon. Member for Eastbourne asked why we need the provision. To commit an offence as defined under clause 179 requires the involvement of at least two different undertakings at the same level of the supply chain. A director who conspires with his sales manager to arrange a cartel to fix prices will be caught under the conspiracy to commit an offence provision in clause 179. We believe that such behaviour should not be beyond the reach of the law where a court could prevent the establishment of a cartel at an early stage.

In relation to extradition with the United States, which was a further point of the hon. Gentleman, such requests are not automatic. Automatic extradition requires both states to prosecute an offender for an identical criminal offence. There are some differences between the United Kingdom offence created under

Column Number: 189

the Bill, and the United States offence brought under the Sherman Act. The US offence is not based on dishonesty, therefore a request would need to be reviewed by the UK courts to establish whether the request fulfils the criteria of it being a case where the offence applies in nature to both jurisdictions. Such a review by the courts provides an extra safeguard against automatic extradition, which is ultimately a matter for the courts to decide.

Mr. Waterson: I am grateful for that clarification. Is it the Under-Secretary's understanding that extradition would be automatic if matters were the other way around; if we were requesting extradition for a US or English citizen in the United States to come and be prosecuted here for a clause 179 offence?

Miss Johnson: I may have to write to the hon. Gentleman on that point.

Mr. Waterson: That leaves me in a slightly unsatisfactory limbo because that last point—

Miss Johnson: I believe that it works both ways. I can clarify the matter to that degree without taking the trouble to write to him.

Mr. Waterson: I should be grateful if the hon. Lady would write to me in any event so that we are clear about the matter. Occasionally, our deliberations touch on the real world, and at the moment the real world is quite interested in the Christie's-Sotheby's case, which is an instance where there is a stark distinction between the fates of one defendant and one possible defendant. One of them in English and does not intend to leave these shores and go to the USA, so he cannot be extradited to the USA for such an offence under US law. I am keen to return to my original question on the issue, which was whether the Government envisage that there should be reasonably easy extradition between here and the USA. The Under-Secretary has already implied that there could be a procedural step because the dishonesty requirement does not appear in the rather ageing US legislation, but I am keen to pin down how it would work the other way around.

Miss Johnson: I shall give the hon. Gentleman a little more detail that will put him fully in the picture. It is the case, as I suggested a moment ago, that the US to UK extradition works exactly as the UK to US extradition would work. That is determined by the 1972 treaty. All of the arrangements that I sketched out concerning extradition to the US parallel the terms of extradition back to the UK.

Mr. Waterson: The Minister has already put her finger on one clear distinction—that because there is no dishonesty requirement under the United States equivalent anti-cartel legislation, a US court would feel able to investigate whether there were a prima facie case based on dishonesty. However, I am still a little unclear and, rather than court madness on the matter, I shall await the letter, as should the Minister, to be sure of the precise position.

Miss Johnson: I am very clear on the precise process. It is exactly the same. If there is an extradition request by the United States, extradition is not automatic because of the slight difference in the

Column Number: 190

regimes. They need to be identical for it to be automatic and, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, the United States offence is not based on dishonesty. In the case of an extradition request by the United States, that request will have to be reviewed by the UK courts. If matters are the other way round, they will have to be considered by the United States courts. It is exactly the same, whichever way round one looks at it. I hope that that entirely clarifies the matter for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Waterson: It does theoretically but, returning to the practicalities, on what basis, so far as the hon. Lady is aware, could Sir Anthony Tennant not be extradited to stand trial side by side with Mr. Taubman?

Miss Johnson: I am not sure that I can comment on individual cases but, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is driving at, he did not previously mention a specific case except to say that the matter was interesting in the context of that case. If his question is specific, I can look at whether there is an answer to it but I would not want to attempt that answer thinking on my feet at this moment.

Mr. Waterson: I do not think that we can take the matter much further forward, but it helps to examine a particular case when looking at how something will work in practice, and fate landed one in our laps only this morning. Most newspapers rather baldly say that it was not possible to extradite Sir Anthony Tennant to face trial. That might just be journalistic over-simplification. There might be perfectly good procedural or evidential reasons why Sir Anthony Tennant has quite rightly not been troubled at all. However, I cannot help but feel that, in the longer run, the United States authorities are bound to take a dim view of us trying to extradite their residents or citizens to face anti-cartel charges here when they are having difficulties extraditing people resident in this country to the USA, especially in such a high-profile case.

Miss Johnson: There is no possibility of that at this moment because the matter is not defined as criminality at this point. There is no regime that covers it. Were this Bill enacted, my understanding is that Sir Anthony Tennant probably could have been extradited. Again, I hope that that clarifies the hon. Gentleman's understanding.

Mr. Waterson: Sadly, it makes me more confused. I was under the impression that clause 182 deals with the extradition of people from other countries to this country to face trial here. Is the Minister saying that it deals with the opposite situation, in which residents or citizens of this country can be extradited to face trial in foreign courts? I cannot believe that that is possible, but if it is indeed what the clause means, I would be fascinated to hear it. In any event—

Miss Johnson: I am not sure whether I can help the hon. Gentleman. I do not seem to be succeeding in helping him here, so it might be better for me to write to him. My understanding is that extradition requests are based on the nature of the legal and criminal regimes in the two countries party to the arrangement. We are dealing here with extradition to other

Column Number: 191

countries, but that will not assist in terms of extradition to the United States specifically.

Mr. Waterson: Perhaps I am beyond help on the issue. I had better read Hansard carefully when it comes out and if a letter is in the offing, that will be very helpful. The Minister has been trying very hard to be helpful on the matter and, on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of the debate on the amendment proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 182 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 April 2002