European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States

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David Cairns: As I understand it, those are the heads, and the specific charges will be worked out as we go through the legislative process.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Will my hon. Friend give way?

David Cairns: Yes, but this is definitely the last time.

Mrs. Dunwoody: May I point out to my hon. Friend that we are having a debate precisely because neither he nor I know whether these are more than generic phrases? The House of Commons frames its legislation on the basis of the words that appear in statutes and laws, not on general impressions of what they may or may not mean. Is he satisfied that we should be taking

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major decisions when we have no detail, specification or clear indication of what particular charges we are talking about?

David Cairns: Yes, I am satisfied that all the offences mentioned in article 2(2) are indeed offences. I am also satisfied that when the primary legislation comes before the House, we will have the opportunity to discuss the points that my hon. Friend has raised.

John Cryer: Will my hon. Friend give way?

David Cairns: This is the third time that I have given way for the last time—and this time it definitely is the last time.

John Cryer: Will my hon. Friend give us a precise definition of xenophobia? How is that a crime?

David Cairns: Xenophobia is obviously hatred or fear of the foreigner. That is the head of a term that will be defined in greater depth when we discuss the primary legislation.

Mrs. Dunwoody: ''Trust me. Trust me—I am a man and I know''. That phrase has got more women into trouble than any other.

David Cairns: My hon. Friend is clearly very bad at reading minds, because that is certainly not what I was thinking—nor have I ever used that phrase to a lady.

Mrs. Dunwoody: When you are in a hole, stop digging.

David Cairns: I would like to try to conclude now.

Lest anyone think that I am going to be a cheerleader, I now come to my reservations. As I said to the Minister, I have reservations about the ambiguity of the terms according to which we will allow the executing country to decline to pursue the warrant, as outlined in article 2(4). There seem to be shifting sands. First it was said that the principle would not be applied, then that it might not be applied, then that it might not be applied in four or five cases, and now that it might not be applied under article 2.

We have liberal laws on abortion, less so on euthanasia, and progressively more so on sexuality. I make no comment on whether they are good or bad. However, people feel very nervous when such measures are not accompanied with some kind of safeguard. That is the one aspect about which I have reservations. I look forward to discussing the matter in much greater detail on the Floor of the House when the primary legislation is debated.

6.50 pm

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Let me run through some of the issues that have been raised.

First, with regard to the generic terms contained in the framework document, the specific offence will have to be on the warrant.

Mr. Wilkinson: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: No, I have hardly got a word out yet, and the hon. Gentleman never gave way to me.

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Hon. Members have talked about extraditing people for petty crime. The discussion got so stupid that the hon. Gentleman said that not liking a foreigner very much might be considered a crime. I am not aware of any EU country where not liking a foreigner very much is punishable by 12 months in prison. Moreover, as I have said, the period is not 30 days but 90 days. We are not under an EU diktat—this is a third-pillar proposal that requires unanimity.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said that the genesis of the measure was in the European Parliament in September. He is not here now, so I say to his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West that the Government's position is clear, and has been for a long time. Opposition Members have repeatedly claimed that the measure originates from 11 September. It does not—it originates from the temporary agreement in which it was decided to try to create an area of justice and safety across the EU. How on earth do we do that unless we have a framework of law that backs it up?

Mr. Cameron: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: Hold on a minute.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) asked about the four-month period in relation to sentences. That remains. This is for cases in which someone has effectively escaped or absconded after sentencing. The European arrest warrant will apply only in cases where four months of a custodial sentence remain to be served. It will not apply in relation to any crime with a sentence of less than 12 months. Dual criminality will not be required to be abolished for crimes with sentences of less than three years—but for people who have absconded or escaped from prison, four months will be the minimum requirement. We cannot and will not extradite people for the purposes of investigation.

The position on abortion and euthanasia provisions is very clear. They are not a requirement in relation to the abolition of dual criminality in the framework document.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: Before I give way to my hon. Friend, she asked me for a definition of a judicial authority. Having listened to the comments of Opposition Members, I imagine that they must be advising their friends and relatives not to travel abroad. I would not want to go to any of the countries that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath describes, where he says that we are likely to be locked up on trumped up charges by corrupt and politically motivated judiciaries. Where are those countries? Does the hon. Gentleman go back to his constituency and advise his constituents not to travel abroad?

I feel guilty now, because during the short time in which I have had the privilege of holding my current position I have been responsible for signing extradition warrants to send people back to these dreadful places. I have sent people back to the examining magistrate in Liege, to the magistrate at the public prosecutor's office in Amsterdam, to the court

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of Brescia, to the county tribunal of Bobigny, to Judge Weber of Saarbrucken, and to magistrate Judge Maria Teresa Palacios Criado of central trial court No. 3 in Madrid. That is in southern Europe; what on earth have I done? God knows what happened to the person concerned, or whether they are even still alive.

Mr. Cameron: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way during his knockabout finish. If, as he says, the genesis for the provision is something other than 11 September, will he guarantee—he failed to do so earlier—that it will be passed on the Floor of the House through primary legislation on extradition, rather than through accelerated procedures under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill? That guarantee is necessary because this is a very important issue.

Mr. Ainsworth: I thought that I had given the hon. Gentleman that guarantee. We intend to introduce primary legislation to modernise our extradition procedures in respect not only of the European Union but of other states.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I take it that my hon. Friend the Minister does not have a definition of the sort that I asked for. Will he say whether the European Court of Justice could overrule any decisions that we take on the first and second lists, should the House decide not to accept any part of the Bill because it conflicts with our normal tenets of democracy?

Mr. Ainsworth: I cannot give a definition because, as I thought I made clear to my hon. Friend, the judicial authority is that accepted by the issuing state currently applying for extradition. The people whose names I read out are the judicial authorities. We are already extraditing people, yet anyone would think that this was a new measure, and we did not already send people back to face justice.

Mr. Wilkinson rose—

Mr. Ainsworth: No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

We live in a modern age and people are travelling more and more. We see people from other countries on our streets every day, and we travel to their countries as well. Perhaps there are some hon. Members in the Committee who want to turn the clock back and bring such travel to an end, but I doubt whether our people do. However, with increased travel and freedom comes—[Interruption.] Why is the hon. Gentleman tapping his desk?

Mrs. Dunwoody: The Minister may not accept my tapping, but surely he will accept my gender.

Mr. Ainsworth: I meant the hon. Lady; I am sorry.

We have three choices in this modern age. First, we can stay where we are and continue to insist on an antiquated and burdensome extradition system that, in effect, allows those who commit crimes in our country, and British people who commit crimes in European partner countries, which are signed up to the ECHR, to escape justice. The question is not one of costs but of whether we want justice. The second

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alternative is to invent and sign up to an all-embracing European justice system—sweeping away an existing system that we have got used to, and which we feel guarantees our rights—and expect other member states to do the same. The third and only remaining alternative is to go down the road of mutual recognition, with safeguards where absolutely necessary.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: There is a fourth way. By all means improve and build on the present system of extradition, but why does the Minister persistently put the convenience and expediency of the requirements of modern government ahead of centuries of judicial protection, which the Labour party used to be proud of and support? Justice is for the small and the weak, yet the Minister is demolishing the entire system simply to give the Governments of Europe a quicker way of achieving their own desires.

 
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Prepared 10 December 2001