My Lords, Amendment 13A in this group is in my name. I make it clear from the outset that we support this Bill, which is why at Third Reading in the other place we did not vote against it. What we did—and what Labour did in the other place—was to vote against the Government’s Amendment 13 proposing a new clause after Clause 15, because it does not go far enough. It does not ensure that death penalty assurances are secured from foreign states to make sure that data provided by the UK, whether by law enforcement agencies or private companies, does not lead to someone being executed. The Government claim to have come a long way in their amendment, but it requires only that a Secretary of State seek death penalty assurances, not that any agreement is dependent on death penalty assurances being received.
The UK is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1988. It is also a signatory to Protocol 13 to the convention. Article 2 of the convention states:
“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which the penalty is provided by law”.
Article 15 states:
“In time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation any High Contracting Party may take measures derogating from its obligations under this Convention to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with its other obligations under international law”.
Article 57 states:
“Any State may, when signing this Convention or when depositing its instrument of ratification, make a reservation in respect of any particular provision of the Convention to the extent that any law then in force in its territory is not in conformity with the provision”.
However, the UK is also a signatory to Protocol 13 to the convention, Article 1 of which states:
“The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed”.
Article 2 of the protocol states:
“No derogation from the provisions of this Protocol shall be made under Article 15 of the Convention”.
Article 3 states:
“No reservation may be made under Article 57 of the Convention in respect of the provisions of this Protocol”.
In other words, there should be no death penalty in any circumstances whatever. That is our international legal obligation.
The UK has been clear—until this Conservative Government took office—that it will campaign to remove the death penalty wherever it exists in the world and will never facilitate the execution of anyone in any foreign state. The difficulty with the type of agreement covered by this Bill is that data provided by the UK to an American law enforcement agency, for example, could result in someone in the US being sentenced to death, contrary until recently to both the UK’s international obligations and its declared intention to do all it can to eradicate the death penalty wherever it exists in the world.
I say “until recently” because, in a High Court case in October last year, it was revealed in correspondence from the Home Secretary to the then Foreign Secretary that, in the case of two ISIS terrorists, evidence was going to be supplied to the US without a death penalty assurance. His letter said that,
“significant attempts having been made to seek full assurance, it is now right to accede to the MLA”— mutual legal assistance—
“request without an assurance”.
The then Foreign Secretary replied that in this,
“unique and unprecedented case … it is in the UK national security interests to accede to an MLA request for a criminal prosecution without death penalty assurances”— a unique and unprecedented case to provide evidence to the US that may lead to executions. The Bill as drafted allows the Government to enter into a data exchange agreement where potentially there would be no death penalty assurance in any case. The Government’s new clause requires the Secretary of State only to seek such assurances; it does not bar the Secretary of State from entering into the agreement without death penalty assurances.
The Government will say that not entering into an agreement with the US could potentially allow terrorists and paedophiles to be a threat for longer. We say that we will not stand in the way of such an agreement provided that it does not result in UK data resulting in people being sent to the electric chair. The first thing to say about what the Minister said in her opening remarks is that these agreements are about securing legal authority to enable data to be provided that can be used in evidence in criminal proceedings. It is about giving legal cover for the handing over of data. It should not prevent the arrest and detention of dangerous suspects while that formal legal authority is obtained, and it can still be obtained through existing MLA arrangements, as in the case of the ISIS suspects. It may delay the trial, but it should not prevent the arrest and detention. Even if there were circumstances that I cannot personally envisage where the arrest and detention of a dangerous criminal were delayed, if the US says it will not sign an agreement containing death penalty assurances then it is the US that is prepared to allow the threats from terrorists and paedophiles to go on for longer by having to rely on the current MLA system.
I shall summarise our position using someone else’s words:
“Our amendment would prevent authorities in this country sharing data with overseas agencies where there is a risk of the imposition of the death penalty. More than 50 years ago parliament as a whole passed a law which ‘opposes the death penalty in all circumstances’. That is the law of the land. It means we do not co-operate with any government if the consequence could be capital punishment. Parliament has for a long time believed that the death penalty is so abhorrent, and the risks of a miscarriage of justice so awful, that we outlaw it. Our ban applies to all countries where the death penalty is still on the statute books. But government Ministers are desperate to cosy up to Donald Trump’s administration in the US, where the death penalty is still imposed. Our amendment simply blocks data sharing co-operation with all countries if the death penalty is a risk”.
I have just quoted, word for word, the shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott from her column in the Daily Mirror on
The opposition parties have worked together on this issue from the beginning, but this should not be a party-political issue; it is a question of fundamental human rights. Again, the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but essentially this Government are willing to sacrifice people to the electric chair in America if that is what it takes to secure the kind of agreement that the Bill covers. Asking us not to tie the hands of those negotiating the deal really means, “Do not ask them to insist on death penalty assurances”.
The question is: do we stand by Article 2 and Protocol 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and do we oppose the death penalty in other countries, or do we not? If we are prepared to see people being executed on the back of evidence provided by the UK, then noble Lords should support the government amendment rather than Amendment 13A. This is a question of principle, a question of conscience and a question of human rights, and we should support it on all sides of this House.