I thank the Minister for his opening remarks, and I pass on my thanks to my Labour colleagues in the other place who took the Bill first, and who have worked hard to scrutinise and amend the Bill we see today. May I outline from the outset that the Opposition are not seeking to divide the House this evening on this Bill?
This extradition Bill seeks to fill a gap—the situation where police become aware of someone wanted by a non-EU territory, usually via the system of Interpol alerts, as the Minister has set out, but are unable to arrest them without a warrant from a court. The risk that the Bill seeks to address is that a wanted person may abscond or even reoffend before they can be detained. Thus the Bill seeks to give a power to UK law enforcement officers to arrest, without the need for such a warrant, for the purposes of extradition. Such a power already exists in relation to the European arrest warrant mechanism, which remains available to us until the end of the transition period at the end of this year.
At present, the Bill applies to extradition requests from only the following non-EU countries: Australia, Canada, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Switzerland and the USA. The Government position is that there is a high level of confidence in these countries’ criminal justice systems and their use of extradition.
“this Bill strikes the right balance between ensuring sufficient human rights safeguards and delivering the capabilities that the police and CPS require in order to safeguard the public…
The Bill does not…make it more or less likely someone will be extradited, but it does increase the chances that persons wanted for serious offences by some of our closest and most trusted partners will enter, with all existing safeguards, the extradition process.”
I of course note his comments very carefully.
Turning to the contents of the Bill itself, it is a very short Bill with only two clauses. Clause 1 gives effect to the schedule, which creates the new power to arrest, and clause 2 outlines the extent and commencement of the Bill. The schedule amends the Extradition Act 2003, and inserts several new sections. Once the arrest has taken place, the individual must be brought before a judge “as soon as practicable”, which is in proposed new section 74A(3).
The noble Baroness Williams of Trafford said about this in the other place:
“I have listened carefully to the concerns raised at Second Reading and in Committee and have concluded that the new power of arrest in the Bill should be consistent in this respect with existing law and practice in relation to Part 2 of the 2003 Act, and that it should therefore mirror the wording ‘as soon as practicable’. That will ensure that individuals are not detained for any longer than is strictly necessary before being put before a judge. If, for example, an individual was arrested in central London, ‘as soon as practicable’
would in all probability be considerably less than 24 hours. Our operational partners have already proved themselves very effective at producing wanted persons before courts within strict timeframes, and the three UK extradition courts have proved strict arbiters of police actions under the ‘as soon as practicable’
Additionally, if an individual is arrested and for legitimate reasons it is not possible to get them to court within 24 hours—for example, if they are arrested in a remote part of the UK or in an area affected by an extreme event—this change in wording will make the legislation operable across all parts of the UK in all circumstances.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 803, c. 1950.]
I am grateful for that explanation, which we will scrutinise carefully during the Bill’s passage through this House. We will be looking for assurances from the Government that “as soon as practicable” does not allow for individuals to be detained longer than is absolutely and strictly necessary.
Let me turn to the trusted partner countries listed in schedule A1 and the two amendments made in the other place, to which the Minister has already referred. The Government’s impact assessment states:
“Under the proposed new power, the police could arrest a suspect who was wanted for extradition by a trusted partner country (those who respect the international rules based system and whose Red Notices and Criminal Justice Systems the UK trusts) for a serious offence if that information has been properly certified.”
I believe that the Government’s hope is that more territories will be added to the partner list in future.
My Labour colleagues in the other place tabled an amendment, which was then made to the Bill, specifying that in allowing further territories to be added to the list, the following requirements must be met: that the Home Secretary has consulted with each devolved Administration and with non-governmental organisations; that a risk assessment has been laid before each House on the risk of the change; and that a statement has been laid before each House outlining that the territory to be added does not abuse Interpol’s red notice system. The inclusion of these safeguards is a perfectly sensible change that we will support in this House.
My Labour colleagues in the other place also supported a Cross-Bench amendment, which was then made to the Bill, which means that the Government can list only one territory to be added to the trusted partner list at a time. The Minister asked what the purpose was of having separate consideration of each territory. Quite simply, we would not want a situation to arise in which a future Government—this Government or another—listed, say, five territories, with differing standards of criminal justice systems and differing human rights records, to be offered to the House on a “take it or leave it” basis. Each territory should be considered individually on its own merits. We will seek to uphold that amendment during the Bill’s passage through this House. That is the most effective way to uphold the values of human rights around the world. I hope that the Government will listen. We will also be insisting that the Government regularly update the House on Interpol and on how effectively countries are working within the system.
What we must not do is close one gap in our security arrangements through the Bill, only then to open up another one that is much wider by not negotiating the effective security arrangement that we need with the European Union. In February the Government published their negotiating mandate. I was a little concerned by point 51, which states:
“The UK is not seeking to participate in the European Arrest Warrant as part of the future relationship. The agreement should instead provide for fast-track extradition arrangements, based on the EU’s Surrender Agreement with Norway and Iceland which came into force in 2019, but with appropriate further safeguards for individuals beyond those in the European Arrest Warrant.”
In my previous role as shadow Security Minister, I argued for the Government to give priority to the future security partnership, because the European arrest warrant has proved to be an incredibly useful tool for fighting and preventing crime. In 2018-19, 15,540 requests were made by UK-EU law enforcement using the European arrest warrant—1,412 arrests related to the EAW and 919 related to surrenders. I hope that during our consideration of the Bill the Minister will set out how the Government will provide for the replacement fast-track extradition arrangements by the end of the year, and whether this House will have the opportunity to scrutinise them in advance at the end of the transition period.
the current Prime Minister said:
“That depends, I am afraid, on the outcome of our negotiations”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 676, c. 846.]
But that the Government’s first priority is to keep people safe is not negotiable, and should be the Prime Minister’s first duty.
The Minister for Security last week gave evidence to the Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee about the future security partnership with the European Union, saying that if an agreement could not be reached there would be
“some mutual loss of capability…there are alternatives and well-rehearsed plans”.
I hope that the Minister will enlighten us as to what exactly those well-rehearsed plans are.
It is in the public interest to have appropriate extradition arrangements in place with as many countries as possible, as that reduces the number of safe spaces in the world where those who could do us harm can go to hide, escape and get beyond the reach of our law enforcement, but as we have now left the European Union and as we move out of the transition period, it is vital that our future security relationship is given priority, and the Government must listen to the concerns of EU law enforcement on this in order for our streets to be kept safe.
The role that all our frontline policing plays in this is vital. We cannot legislate our way to safety and we cannot see issues in isolation. The Government must keep to their promise of delivering 20,000 additional police officers. The cuts to policing and preventive services have had a devastating impact over the past 10 years. There has been a sharp decline in certain types of crime during the lockdown, and, sadly, a rise in others, but none of the underlying factors that drive it have been addressed and there are real concerns that crime overall will rise rapidly as lockdown restrictions are lifted. It is vital that the Government plan for that in the coming weeks and months. Labour Members take our role in helping to keep people safe very seriously, so we will be closely scrutinising the Bill as well as the Home Office’s wider work against the central and vital test of keeping the public safe.