Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 22nd June 2020.

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Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Shadow Minister (Home Office) 5:18 pm, 22nd June 2020

It is a pleasure to close this debate for the Opposition with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to follow my good friend, Jim Shannon.

This has been an insightful and productive—albeit brief—exchange on a Bill that is short and technical, but which contains important new provisions on very important matters. As the shadow Home Secretary said, the Opposition are committed to keeping the British people safe, and that includes making sure that serious criminals who make their way into our country or commit offences in other countries cannot rest easy, freely walk our streets or evade the law’s full force, and we fully endorse the UK working within an international framework to ensure that. That is why we broadly support the Bill and will not seek to divide the House this evening. We hope to work genuinely with the Government and Members from all parts of the House to improve the Bill as it progresses.

As has been said, the Bill aims to fill a gap that currently exists for UK law enforcement and allows a police constable, customs officer or service policeman to arrest without warrant a suspect wanted for serious offences in certain countries upon the basis of a certified extradition request, typically an Interpol red alert. As Mr Holden said, many encounters with such suspects take place by chance or due to other infractions, so it is good that the power will exist to deal immediately with other more serious issues on the basis of an extradition request. As such, the Bill will enable a similar process to that currently in place with the European arrest warrant for countries external to that mechanism, but with which the United Kingdom has formal extradition arrangements.

We understand the need for this change to expedite the proceedings through which suspects enter the criminal justice system, so we broadly support the Bill’s ambitions. It is of critical importance that we ensure that serious criminals—let us not forget that in some cases, they are wanted abroad for the most heinous crimes—are arrested and swiftly brought to justice before the opportunity arises for them to reoffend or to abscond. In carrying out our overriding priority to keep the British public safe, we fully accept that, in a world where criminals increasingly respect no national borders or boundaries, we must work to achieve that in collaboration with our international partners and their criminal justice systems.

As the Government take the legislation forward, we will press them to ensure that reasonable and proportionate safeguards, such as those won in the other place, are addressed. While we agree with legislating on the basis of those currently specified as trusted partners in the Bill, we should not and must not leave the door open for any future addition of countries that shamefully fail to uphold human rights and liberties or that frequently abuse the Interpol red alert system for nefarious ends by targeting political opponents, journalists, peaceful protesters, refugees, human rights defenders or people on the basis, as the hon. Member for Strangford said, of their religious faith.

I welcome the specific mention by the Minister of the role of the National Crime Agency in helping to adjudicate. We believe it requires a thorough process of consultation and assessment before a territory is added, varied or removed. Issues such as the use of the death penalty should be a factor in the decisions we make. Consultation —first with the devolved Administrations, who can bring valuable expertise and so often have powers relating to justice and, secondly, with relevant non-governmental organisations and experts—is at the heart of the amendment made in the other place. There should then be an assessment made on the risks of the proposed changes and, where the proposal is to add a territory, on the basis of evidence and judgment.

We also believe it sensible to ensure that key criteria are met for grouping countries, where more than one country is specified at any one time, allowing for proper parliamentary oversight of any territory taken on the merit of its respective case. It is for the Government to provide those assurances, otherwise we see no other way to add countries but individually.

We believe those to be reasonable, proportionate and practical suggestions that will improve the quality of the Bill, as well as any prospective changes to it in the future. That is why we urge the Government to engage with us on the changes as the Bill proceeds.

There are, however, several critical points that the Bill does not address, including the Government’s woeful lack of progress on future security and criminal justice arrangements with the European Union. Any loss of capability, regardless of whether it is mutual, would have a disastrous implication for UK law enforcement’s ability to identify and question suspected criminals and thus keep our country and its citizens safe.

Specifically on extradition, for example, we know that the UK and EU falling back on to prior arrangements —specifically the 1957 Council of Europe convention on extradition—would add delay, complexity and difficulty to proceedings.

That is not my assessment but that of the previous Conservative Government and Mrs May, the former Prime Minister and Home Secretary. Time and time again, the Government say they are optimistic that a full and comprehensive arrangement can be agreed before the transition period ends on 31 December, but frankly time is running out. We and the men and women who work every day in our law enforcement agencies need to see progress on this. Although I entirely accept, too, that the Bill relates solely to powers conferred on UK law enforcement, we need to understand what exactly the Government are doing to ensure adequate reciprocity in future extradition arrangements, particularly if we lose the powers we currently enjoy under the European arrest warrant and other such mechanisms—a point made forcefully by Daisy Cooper.

Legal experts with specialisms in extradition have been clear that the loss of the European arrest warrant is of far greater concern than the current capability gap addressed by the Bill. Although the measures in the Bill are welcome, the countries it identifies represent only a tiny proportion of those subject to a European arrest warrant request in recent years. The assumption is that the provisions in the Bill could be applied to EU countries in due course, but the Government seem a little confused on that point. In the explanatory notes to the Bill they suggest that they would do precisely that through statutory instruments, but the Minister in the other place said the Bill was not an attempt to replicate the capability of the European arrest warrant. Will the Solicitor General clarify what exactly the Government’s approach to this is? It simply cannot be the case for our country going forward that we are unable to bring to justice criminals wanted for serious offences here in the UK because they are elsewhere, while the reverse is perfectly possible. That imbalance has occurred even in our relationship with our closest ally, the United States of America.

The Government must reassure the public that their priority is protecting British interests and British citizens, and upholding the international rules-based order in this process. We must do all we can to ensure that robust mechanisms are in place so that suspects wanted here in the UK who have made their way abroad can face justice. That has been articulated most ably in recent months by the family of Harry Dunn. I reiterate our support for them and our call for the Government to engage fully with them and provide the answers they are demanding.

In conclusion, we fully accept the need for comprehensive legislation to address the gap that currently exists for UK law enforcement prior to extradition proceedings. In a constructive spirit, the Opposition will work with the Government on the Bill, seeking to fully scrutinise it in Committee and ensure that reasonable protections remain in place. I am sure the Solicitor General will agree that it is important that we get this right, and I know that Labour Members, and Members across the House, will do our best to assist the Government in ensuring that we do.