Execution of Orders Freezing Assets or Evidence

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Mr. Hawkins: The Minister, understandably, referred to our debates on the Proceeds of Crime

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Bill, but would he have been happy to introduce the provisions of that Bill if it had included in its definitions of offences something as vague as xenophobia? That is the point.

Mr. Ainsworth: The point is that we have a choice about the approach that we take. We can accept that we have no effective judicial co-operation in areas of extradition, the European arrest warrant or the return of assets. We can accept that we need a Europewide legal framework, which would be highly problematic, contentious and impractical—or we can take the approach of mutual recognition. The Opposition are failing to address those points.

Mr. Hawkins: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: Before I give way, let me point out that we are talking not about countries such as Republika Srpska but about European Union countries, all of which have signed the European convention on human rights.

I take on board the hon. Gentleman's comments about the Select Committee recommendations. However, having read out article 1 in my opening speech, I shall read the preamble that should be read alongside it. I quote:

    ''This Framework Decision respects the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised by Article 6 of Treaty on European Union and reflected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, notably Chapter VI thereof.''

The preamble goes on to say that the framework decision may not be ''interpreted as prohibiting refusal'' in certain cases.

The issue of ECHR compliance is covered.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is responding as if we only had the choice between rejecting the entire proposal out of hand or accepting it. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset said in his excellent speech, the Government should take on board the serious concerns expressed by the Scrutiny Committee, a large majority of whose members belong to the Minister's party. They should send the proposals back, saying, ''We are not prepared to impose these in their current form. They might be all right if you leave in all the serious criminal offences, but remove vague things such as xenophobia, and include the safeguards that the Scrutiny Committee recommended.'' The Minister is, however, brushing

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aside the concerns and the unanimous report of a Committee that is dominated by members of his own party, as if such things did not matter. He refuses to contemplate renegotiation, and is simply saying that the proposals must go through in their current form.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am not seeking to show disrespect or to ignore anyone. The European Scrutiny Committee explained why it decided to provoke this debate, and I am responding.

We talked about the list of offences in the context of the European arrest warrant. The principles of mutual recognition require us not to impose our framework of law on others, just as we would not expect or allow them to impose theirs on us. However, there is scope for much more co-operation than takes place within the current framework.

The proposals will give us an effective means of taking action against illegal assets in other countries, just as other European jurisdictions will be able to take action against assets held in our country. We will be able to co-operate on the return of evidence that is required to bring people to justice. I therefore commend the proposals to the Committee.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 1.

Division No. 1]

Cairns, David Griffiths, Jane Hopkins, Mr. Kelvin
Lepper, Mr. David Palmer, Dr. Nick

Walter, Mr. Robert

Question accordingly agreed to.


    That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 6980/02, draft Framework Decision on the execution in the European Union of orders freezing property or evidence; shares the Government's view that the general thrust of the measure will improve the speed and effectiveness with which assets and evidence can be secured in cases of serious crime, acknowledges the amendments which have been included, largely at the Government's instigation to ensure that personal rights and freedoms are protected as far as is possible; and supports the Government's position on this measure.

Committee rose at seventeen minutes past Three o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Cairns, David
Griffiths, Jane
Hopkins, Mr.
Lepper, Mr.
Palmer, Dr.
Walter, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Hawkins, Mr. Nick (Surrey Heath)

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