Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I first pick up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, because he referred to the generic nature of the offences. One difficulty is that similar offences are described in different ways by different countries. Although we may each have a similar offence on our statute book, we may describe it differently. So the generic term encompasses a range of offences in the various countries.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for making clear that although Amendment No. 183 is included in the group, they do not intend to press it separately. I shall therefore concentrate on the general comments made by the noble Lord in moving the amendment, which, as he and the noble Baroness rightly said, also bears my name.

Throughout the Bill's passage, your Lordships and Members of another place have spent a great deal of time discussing the list of generic offence categories. It is perhaps unnecessary for me to remind your Lordships that that is the list of offence categories in respect of which the dual criminality rule can be relaxed. It is fair to say that the existence of the list and its content have been the source of a certain amount of

27 Oct 2003 : Column 81

controversy, so it is slightly strange that for the majority of this group of amendments, we appear to be in complete agreement. I rejoice in that fact.

The exception, of course, is Amendment No. 329, to which I cannot agree. It concerns the particular category of "racism and xenophobia" on the list, which we believe should not be adulterated or diluted. I shall return to that amendment shortly.

However, the purpose of most of the amendments is clear enough. They include the list in the wording of the Bill. I know that that was something that noble Lords very much wanted. The Government's original view was that the content of the list was clear by reference to the framework decision, but were happy to accept the strength of feeling that the list should be in the Bill itself. In Grand Committee, we made a commitment to do that. I am happy to be able to recommit us in that regard and the amendments in my name give effect to that commitment.

Let me say something about changes to the list. It is important to preface my remarks with the statement that we know of absolutely no plans to change the list and that any such change would require the unanimous agreement of all member states. The government amendments provide that changes to the list in the Bill can be made only to reflect changes agreed at European level and then be effected only by order subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I know that that is what the Opposition parties were seeking and I am pleased that we have been able to oblige. Given that, as I said, we appear to be temporarily in complete agreement, I think I need say no more about the list being in the Bill.

As I promised a moment ago, I now turn to Amendment No. 329, which would completely remove the reference to "xenophobia" in the list—the list that we are now seeking to include in a schedule to the Bill. However, I should perhaps begin with an apology. I say that because I shall refer to a term at the sound of which many noble Lords who attended Grand Committee will groan. However, it is the issue that people have identified as being different: that of Holocaust denial.

As those of your Lordships who studied the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee on the Bill in another place will be aware, the Government took steps to establish what offences in other EU countries fell within the racism and xenophobia category. The results for several countries are contained in the annexe to the Home Affairs Committee's report. What is striking is how familiar all the conduct is: it is conduct that we in the United Kingdom would regard as criminal.

Suggestions that our EU partners have wild or peculiar racist or xenophobic offences on their statute book are clearly wide of the mark. I trust that your Lordships will bear that in mind during our further deliberations. Almost the only offence that we could identify that is a racist or xenophobic offence in another EU country but clearly has no counterpart in United Kingdom law is Holocaust denial, which is why we kept coming back to it—it was the only offence on which we could alight.

27 Oct 2003 : Column 82

As your Lordships will be aware, the generic list that includes racism and xenophobia is significant as it sets out the categories of offences—they are broad headings, not specific crimes—for which the dual criminality test is disapplied. That point is important. We are talking not about a precise offence of racism or xenophobia but of offences that fall into that category. In our earlier debates, we said that a number of offences under our race relations legislation, such as incitement to racial hatred, are not reflected in all EU countries but would fall within the category of offences that could be described as racist or xenophobic.

So although the United Kingdom has no offence of racism or xenophobia, plenty of examples fall within that category—all of our incitement to racial hatred legislation being an obvious one. The fact that the United Kingdom does not use the term "xenophobia" in its legislation does not mean that we do not have offences that correspond to other countries' xenophobia legislation. "Racism and xenophobia" is a term in common use at the European level to cover the kind of behaviour and conduct that we have been discussing. Hence the framework decision on racism and xenophobia. That is why that phrase is used in the list.

In previous debates, we have heard all sorts of inflammatory suggestions that tabloid editors or readers of Biggles will be extradited, which has fuelled concern over the phrase. I had hoped that we had been able to put all these nonsensical rumours to ground, but they continue to cause concern. We have said on innumerable occasions that no one will be extradited from the United Kingdom for doing something that is not illegal here. This is unequivocal and I hope that your Lordships will agree that we should waste no more time giving any legitimacy to such suggestions.

By the same token, our position remains constant that within the EU and the freedom of travel, commerce and employment that comes with it, a person should respect the laws of the place he is in. If he does not, he should face justice. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is not suggesting that such a person should not face trial—I see her indicating that she is not. We are really discussing the term. As I said, the term is a catch-all. We need it. If we did not have it, there are many offences described in other EU countries as "xenophobic" that we would not be able to include when requesting extradition.

With that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baroness will feel a degree of comfort and certainty and, when reading the list, will recognise that, other than the dreaded example of Holocaust denial, we are in comity with our European partners.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, surely the noble Baroness is aware that it is an offence to insult the French President. Would that not be covered by the term? Much more seriously, whatever the offence of xenophobia may be at the moment, is it not true that under the Bill it will be what the extraditing magistrate

27 Oct 2003 : Column 83

chooses to say it is? We have not the faintest idea of what it will be in future. Surely that is the position, is it not?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is not. The Bill provides that if someone in an EU country has committed an offence contrary to that country's law and then seeks extradition, we will comply, if that is shown. Similarly, if the situation were reversed, we would be very upset if someone came here and incited racial hatred, which we all abhor, but then said "It is not an offence in my country to incite all these people to racial hatred; it is perfectly OK. Why should I be extradited just because I went to Britain and caused mayhem and incited people to hate each other on racist grounds?". I hear the noble Lord say that that is a different thing, but it is exactly the same. We do not expect others to come to this country and abuse our law with impunity. We expect our EU partners to assist us in the same way that we would expect our citizens, when in France, to obey the law there. It is mutual respect—something that inures to our joint advantage.

Lord Monson: My Lords, will the Minister explain why the European framework list includes racism and xenophobia, rather than racist behaviour and xenophobic behaviour? All the other 31 crimes on the list involve action or behaviour, whereas racism and xenophobia are both emotions. In a democracy one cannot legislate against an emotion; one can legislate only against acts or behaviour.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have tried to explain that this is a category within which there will be specific offences. I have indicated that our own offence of incitement to racial hatred would fall within the generic term. I understand what the noble Lord says about how the other crimes were framed. As with all the issues, this was negotiated between all the EU partners and there was agreement on the framework—the broad generic categories. We have tried to be very explicit about what the terms encompass. We can say, from looking at existing legislation, what the categories currently encompass; however, it is right that our own law and that of other countries may be amended, particularly in this sphere.

We have a very proud history in that our legislation is said to be the most far-reaching and comprehensive of any country in Europe. It may be the most far-reaching anywhere in the world. It is therefore unlikely that many of our partners will have such comprehensive provisions. I do not hesitate to say that we want them to be able to implement those provisions and extradite if anyone comes to our country and trespasses against our law, even if our law sets a higher standard than anyone else's.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page