Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendments, as it enables me to say something about fiscal offences. I am sure that noble Lords are aware that some European countries have traditionally been unwilling to extradite people for fiscal offences. Our tax and duty evaders have not been slow in the past to exploit that, as the perusal of popular newspaper headlines referring to the "Costa del Crime" demonstrates rather graphically.

One great advantage of the European arrest warrant is that in future no EU country will be able to refuse extradition for fiscal offences. No longer will those who commit VAT or income tax fraud and who cost this country millions of pounds be able to live the life of Riley in another part of the EU. Instead, they will be held to account for their crimes. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that that is a good thing, and

1 Jul 2003 : Column GC226

bear in mind that the European arrest warrant offers real benefits to this country, not least in terms of tax revenues.

I turn to the specifics of the amendments. We are not talking about people being extradited for conduct that is not criminal here in the UK. Far from it—evasion of taxes and duties are offences under UK law. Indeed, it is hard to think of offences that have been on the statute book for longer. Clauses 63(8) and 64(8) provide that, if a person evades tax or duty of another country while in that country, he can be extradited for that crime, even if the UK does not happen to have an exact equivalent tax or duty. That is the purpose of the clauses.

I can see no real objection to that. Tax evasion, in whatever manifestation, is a crime in this country, and those who evade the relevant taxes or duties in this country or abroad should in our view face justice. If Belgium has a tax on savings and a person in Belgium deliberately evades it, why should such a person not be extradited to Britain, just because we happen not to have an identical tax? To turn the point round, if a Belgian came here and failed to tax his car, would we excuse him on the grounds that Belgium raises revenue on vehicles in a different way? Of course we would not—that plainly would not make much sense.

Our approach is that everyone has to pay the taxes and duties of the countries they are in, and the provisions that these amendments seek to remove reflect that. We are not referring to dual criminality here, as tax and duty evasion are clearly a crime here and in every European country. We are simply saying that we should not create a loophole by which a person can escape extradition because the tax or duty that he or she has evaded happens not to have a direct equivalent in the UK. I am sure that, having heard that explanation, the noble Baroness will feel confident in withdrawing her amendment.

I should add that it is Article 4.1 of the framework decision that reflects the approach of the provisions in the Bill.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. It occurred to me during his explanation that no one would wish people who evade taxation to evade prosecution. Those of us who are honest want others to cough up too, whoever they are. However, the measure might come as a surprise to so many of our friends and colleagues—and in the population of this country as a whole—who own holiday homes abroad, given the range of property taxes that exist in other countries and do not exist here, and which are so often evaded. My husband and I owned a Spanish holiday home and, although we were always punctilious in everything that we paid, we found that we were among the few in our urbanisation who did pay up. Many sold on and moved off without paying up, so the provision may hit a few people rather hard—we will have to see. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1 Jul 2003 : Column GC227

On Question, Whether Clause 63, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: It would be strange to let the clause go by without some comments on how the Bill affects sovereign and state immunity. We had a debate on Amendment No. 111 that centred on the issue of a crime being committed in the UK. How does the Bill change the law, if at all, in relation to crimes under the torture convention and against humanity? Does it modify in any way state or sovereign immunity?

As the Minister will know, the law after the case of General Pinochet was left rather unresolved and in an ambiguous state. An original motivation for the Bill was the prolonged legal process in that case. Of course, there have been one or two judgments since in the International Court of Justice relating to Belgium that have rather put into reverse the findings of the House of Lords, but that is perhaps by the way.

Does the clause change the law relating to state and sovereign immunity and the interaction with the torture convention—which, at a quick reading, I cannot see mentioned? As the Minister will know, Belgian magistrates have claimed universal jurisdiction and have sought to indict General Sharon, President Bush, both senior and junior, and, indeed, General Tommy Franks. That has led to some reaction within Belgium, as the Belgians are trying to modify the law so that it applies only to acts involving citizens of Belgium. I am not entirely sure how they can do that, in view of the obligations that countries have incurred under legislation such as the torture convention. What will be the position if a Belgian magistrate makes a request for extradition of someone in this country—perhaps the Prime Minister? Is the law in the same position as it was after the case of General Pinochet? Is it ambiguous, or has it been changed in some way?

Equally, I would be interested if the Minister would comment on subsection (7) relating to the International Criminal Court. The other day I read in the Herald Tribune that the Government have done a deal with the Government of Afghanistan—Afghanistan is not a category 1 territory—whereby British soldiers are not subject to the jurisdiction and will not be handed over for any acts committed in Afghanistan. The Government have sought a deal vis-a-vis the actions of British troops in Afghanistan.

Presumably that cannot be fireproof against the action of the magistrates in certain countries like Belgium and Spain. Spanish judges have continued to claim universal jurisdiction. As the Minister may be aware, last week an Argentinean was extradited from Mexico to Spain for actions in Argentina. What is the position? Will people who visit this country be subject to the threats of Spanish and Belgian magistrates even for activities committed perhaps in another continent? Perhaps the Minister could comment on what the clause means in that regard.

1 Jul 2003 : Column GC228

7 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope that I shall be able to assist the noble Lord. The position in relation to immunity of heads of state, former heads of state, diplomats and others similarly entitled to immunity, will not be affected by the introduction of the European arrest warrant.

As the noble Lord knows, international law has established that certain people, such as a head of state, a head of government and a foreign minister, have immunity from prosecution and, therefore, extradition. However, that immunity does not extend to acts such as torture and genocide. That is why, as I am sure the noble Lord remembers more graphically than any of the Committee, the House of Lords ruled that Pinochet should be extradited for acts that took place after the United Kingdom ratified the UN torture convention, but not for those that took place before that point.

The key to this is that nothing in the Bill changes the position on state and diplomatic immunity as it is not, as the Committee will understand, within the UK's gift or power to change the nature of international law unilaterally. Anyone who currently has immunity will continue to benefit from that immunity.

On the questions that the noble Lord raised with regard to subsection (7), which relates to the International Criminal Court, I am not aware of any deal that has been made in relation to British soldiers not being handed over, as mentioned in the Herald Tribune. I do not know the position in relation to that; I would have to write to the noble Lord on that point.

Generally, the noble Lord knows that the provisions in the ICC will work. If an offence is allegedly committed by a British national, a request would have to be made to this country. Only if this country failed and/or refused properly to deal with that request could there be a reference to us. Under the rules set out in the International Criminal Court we would have to deal with our national. Only if we failed and/or refused to deal with the national would the International Criminal Court be in a position to act. We would have to give a response and the Committee will remember the way in which that would go. The request would come to us, we would say that we were dealing with it and everything would stop until we had dealt with it. We would then notify the ICC what we had done. That is the system that is therein contained. I would be happy to write to the noble Lord on any other issues that he raised.

Lord Goodhart: I do not know what my view would be on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, but I would like to know the position on it. Leaving aside any question of state immunity on such matters, assume that someone is accused of a serious offence in, let us say, Rwanda; and the Belgian courts claim to have universal jurisdiction over that person who is in the UK. If the extradition were claimed by Rwanda, there would be no defence to it, but if extradition is

1 Jul 2003 : Column GC229

claimed by Belgium—I believe that there was an actual case along those lines—would there be any change in the position as a result of the Bill?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page