Previous SectionIndexHome Page


9 Dec 2002 : Column 108—continued

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: So can we.

Mr. Cameron: Yes, but we do not know what we are letting our constituents in for.

And it gets still worse. Countries joining the EU can automatically be designated category 1 countries. I have huge respect for countries in eastern Europe that have broken free of the communist yoke and I welcome them into the EU—I think that their joining is extremely important—but we must recognise that, if we pass the Bill, we will be taking other EU judicial systems on trust. That does not involve only the countries that are currently EU members, with their current laws, but all the countries that will join in future, with their future laws. It means taking an enormous step.

9 Dec 2002 : Column 109

Perhaps the biggest objection of all for those of us who care about the House and the way in which Parliament works is that we cannot amend the list of offences. We must either take the Bill whole, or reject it whole. We cannot take out the most general offences, such as xenophobia and computer-related crime; we must take the lot, or none at all. That is why I think it would be best to vote the Bill down. The Select Committee came up with an ingenious suggestion that I hope the Home Secretary will consider. It stated:


I know how few our numbers are on these Benches, and I know that we will probably be defeated in the Lobbies, but I hope that the Minister will consider that.

What objection could there be? There are two possibilities. One is that this is, as I believe it to be, a modest additional safeguard that does not change the terms of the warrant but merely gives a new, additional responsibility to the district judge and the Home Secretary—a backstop power. The hon. Member for Broxtowe said that it was far more than that: he said, effectively, that it would run counter to the whole European arrest warrant, and could leave the Home Secretary in an invidious position because it would cause a conflict between him and the Council of Ministers in relation to their decision on that warrant. If someone came before him who had committed an offence that was not a crime in this country, according to the district judge, the Home Secretary would have to say, XI am sorry. You may spend time rotting in a Greek or Spanish jail. Weeks may pass before you are even charged with an offence that is not a crime in this country. But there is nothing I can do about it." If that is so, it demonstrates the inflexibility of the law that the Government have signed up to on our behalf—and if it is that inflexible, we should not adopt it.

One of the things that we are supposed to do here is to defend the rights of people in this country: the people who send us here, our constituents, citizens of this country. We are meant to stand up against an over-mighty Executive, whether the over-mighty Executive are making decisions from Westminster or from Brussels, as is the case with this measure, particularly when our Government do not have the wherewithal to stop it. Therefore, the best we can do is to vote down the Bill tonight.

9.20 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who has made a powerful contribution to the debate, as he always does on home affairs matters.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that this has been a slightly unusual debate. Conservative Members have made a large number of relatively short, powerful and well-observed speeches that have looked at the Bill itself, at its details and at the report by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, whereas a small number of Labour Members have made extremely lengthy speeches in which they ventilated many of their prejudices but hardly talked about the Bill and occasionally mentioned

9 Dec 2002 : Column 110

the reservations of the Labour-dominated Select Committee. Basically, they were so embarrassed by the Bill that they wanted to talk about other things that were only tangential to extradition.

It is worth looking in a little detail at how the Bill came to be in its current form. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has talked about the fact that one needs to have exceptional provisions to deal with the exceptional danger of terrorism. That is something on which we on the Conservative Benches and the Government agree: one should have rare exceptions to deal with an exceptional threat.

That was the genesis of the framework directive. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, an urgent meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers took place. It discussed the proposal that an arrest warrant would need to be issued in a member state and executed in another member state, and the person arrested would be transported to the originating member state without the protections of ordinary extradition procedure in terrorist cases alone.

I am indebted to the distinguished jurist and constitutional lawyer Leo Price, QC, for his description of what happened next. Until just before the Laeken summit in December 2001, Italy was not willing to agree to any such European arrest warrant proposal unless the relevant offences were restricted to seven offences plainly of terrorist character. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset set out, we would still be happy for the sole exception of terrorism to be included, but other people, in drafting what was proposed in Europe, decided to see the measure as a vehicle for introducing something else that, until then, the present British Government had always opposed. They wanted to introduce part of the corpus juris that successive British Governments, including the current one, had previously rejected as unacceptably contrary to our common law traditions. Suddenly, we had the list of 32 offences, which were not part of the war against terrorism at all.

The arrest warrant, in its much wider form, with the implementation of part of the corpus juris, was formally adopted at a meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council on 13 June this year. It adopted the arrest warrant proposal despite the fact that it was under what is called scrutiny reserve at Westminster. Scrutiny reserve applicable to proposals for EU legislation requires that our Ministers do not agree in Council to proposals for EU legislation that are still under scrutiny by this sovereign Parliament. The scrutiny arrangements do not always work well but Leo Price has concluded that that adoption was in contempt of our parliamentary arrangements for scrutiny reserve.

Then, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and my hon. Friends the Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and for Henley (Mr. Johnson) and I expressed in some of the European Committees our concerns about who was going to be regarded under the new arrangements as a competent judicial authority. In that regard the case of the Greek plane-spotters in Kalamata, which many Members have mentioned in interventions and in speeches, is particularly relevant.

9 Dec 2002 : Column 111

We remain of the view that, if one cannot say who is a competent judicial authority, the proposal is extremely dangerous. In many other countries covered by category 1 of the proposed legislation, those who take the role of an investigative magistrate in another jurisdiction—a juge d'instruction, or something of that ilk—will be regarded automatically as a competent judicial authority, and no British court will have the right then to intervene to protest about the way in which such an arrest warrant has been issued. The whole burden of all that we Conservatives have said this evening is that we ought to preserve the protection for British subjects whereby a British court—and, potentially, the Secretary of State—has a reserve power to scrutinise what is going on before somebody is simply arrested and taken away to face a foreign court that perhaps has a wholly inappropriate system of justice, in which there is no presumption of innocence.

I know that the Minister always speaks very softly when introducing proposals, however controversial they are, but we did not find today's soft words of much reassurance. We want provisions such as those that we have discussed to be included in the Bill as safeguards, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and many others have said. The Minister's soft words were obviously reassuring to some Labour Members; indeed, so soft were they that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) was fast asleep for several minutes of his speech, before a message from the Whip woke her up. On a serious note, there needs to be sufficient maturity of criminal justice in all the countries to which part 1, in particular, relates.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the distinguished Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, set out its very powerful reservations about this legislation. Conservative Members share many of those reservations. He referred to the vagueness of some of the crimes—such as sabotage and environmental crime—set out in the framework directive consisting of 32 crimes. He rightly said that a British judge's becoming a mere cipher was not acceptable. We agree with his Committee's suggestion that the proposal should be amended to allow a district judge to scrutinise anything put forward in such an arrest warrant.

The hon. Gentleman said that, instead of a reduction to 12 months, we ought to go back to the proposal for a three-year limitation. He also reminded the House that, in practice, courts have often refused extradition under current law—even to EU countries—and so have successive Home Secretaries of different parties. As the hon. Gentleman rightly asked, what has changed to lead us to throw all caution to the wind? In our view, nothing has changed to allow us to discard those safeguards.

The hon. Gentleman further pointed out that the proposed EU arrest warrant requires inadequate information, and yet again we agree. We need a much more detailed warrant, and even for category 2 countries—the hon. Gentleman talked about clause 83—the Government's freedom to exempt is far too wide. He suggested a restriction in respect of signatories to the convention on extradition, or of bilateral extradition treaty countries. That is a matter to which

9 Dec 2002 : Column 112

we shall undoubtedly return in Committee. The hon. Gentleman also rightly said that proper legal advice should be given to anyone before they consent to extradition from this country. Again, we regard that as an enormously helpful safeguard.

The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), who spoke for his party, said that in his view, the Bill is unacceptable in its current form, and that he wants to improve it. He pointed out that many signatory countries to the framework directive do not in fact have the legal safeguards that we enjoy. In Greece, for example, there is no legal aid. It is also important to protect the presumption of innocence, which does not exist in many other countries. However, the hon. Gentleman's main objection was that the dual criminality rule was abolished for category 1 countries. We entirely agree about that. He talked, as did the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, about vague and nebulous offences, and ended by saying firmly that he wanted the Bill completely changed because it was unacceptable in its current form. We will be watching with interest what he and his colleagues do in the Division Lobby tonight.

The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) said that the law needed updating. He wanted the Government to address his points, which were in some ways similar to those made by the Home Affairs Committee. However, he said that he is not always reassured when he sees the rest of the European Union's judicial systems in operation, something that I thought very significant coming from a former Solicitor-General in this Government. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps when the hon. and learned Gentleman was in office he advised against the introduction of this sort of measure, which is why he now finds himself on the Back Benches. Perhaps we will never know, but he rightly reminded us that British courts have always taken a very robust view about these matters. He stressed, again quite rightly, that clause 21 on the human rights safeguards will prove very important. In summary, he felt that he could not give the Bill an unequivocal welcome.

In a powerful contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway), warned against the extension of the European state. He used the parallel of what had happened in the past over the Single European Act. He quite rightly said that the Bill is an attack on civil liberties and that there has been no effective rebuttal of what the Law Lord, Lord Scott, had written about xenophobia and that something as simple as distributing a Biggles book or the Old Testament could be regarded in some countries as xenophobia.

The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), in what I thought was a slightly schizophrenic speech, first said that he welcomed the Bill in general terms but that he did not like politicians being involved in the judicial process in general terms. He pointed out that the Home Secretary has had problems on such issues as mandatory life sentences. He said that he was speaking as a former lawyer; he felt that there had been problems with the Pinochet case and that the legislation could be improved. However, he went on to say—and this is where I thought he contradicted himself—that the extradition system, purely as a creature of the 19th century, should not preserve the reliance on the

9 Dec 2002 : Column 113

judiciary that Lord Palmerston had used in the Don Pacifico case in 1850. If the hon. Gentleman believes that politicians are interfering too much and that we ought to rely on the judiciary, it is not really logical to say that we have to move away from the protections of the judiciary by which our citizens have been protected since the 19th century. The hon. Gentleman's attitude was that it does not matter about protecting British citizens who will be extradited—he was more concerned about people being extradited to this country. The Bill deals with both eventualities, and we must preserve the protection for our citizens.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon pointed out that the Bill had been comprehensively demolished in the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. My hon. Friend said that the Government are careless with the freedoms of our citizens. He talked about the cases of people who should have been deported being delayed, not because of delays in the judicial system but because the Home Secretary had not decided on cases in which appeals were rejected by the House of Lords as far back as December 2001. He said that it was not good enough for the Government to say that the judicial system is slow; he pointed out that the Pinochet case had been heard three times up to the House of Lords in 15 months. If a case has sufficient political priority, it gets heard.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the year zero kind of thinking on the Government Benches which says that just because something is hallowed by tradition, it is automatically wrong. He said that we must not disregard the protections that have been built up over the generations for British citizens. He talked about the dangers of the Bill being used for allegations of war crimes, as in the Pinochet case. He wondered whether Ministers might be worried if some other judicial authority one day decided that they were guilty of war crimes in relation to the bombing of Kosovo.

My hon. Friend also rightly pointed out that many of the offences in the list of 32 could and should be fully defined in the Bill. In response to an intervention from the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) about definitions, my hon. Friend said that we need the dual criminality safeguard that has always existed. In the past, our divisional courts have had a problem accepting even French or Spanish jurisdiction. The safeguard should be preserved.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) maundered on for about a half an hour saying nothing very much. However, he engaged in an interesting exchange with the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing), who speaks for the Scottish National party. It seemed that she and the hon. Gentleman were in greater agreement with one another than he was with the Minister.


Next Section

IndexHome Page