Thank you, Miss Begg. I understand that, on reflection with your co-Chairman, Mr. O'Hara, you agreed to allow a brief clause stand part debate. I am grateful for that decision and welcome you to the Chair.
I shall not repeat what I said at length in moving the Opposition's initial group of amendments. It was particularly helpful that Mr. O'Hara said that clause 1 showed how front-loaded the Bill was, and the Minister was kind enough to confirm that. We all take the view that much of the meat is at the beginning of the Bill. However, this clause is short. Its significance lies more in the issues that have been left out. I am referring to the fact that British citizens will no longer have the protection of such historic rights as habeas corpus, that the European arrest warrant may be used to take away historic civil liberties of citizens of this country, and to all the other issues that I raised under the initial amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) made very important points on Second Reading, to which I referred briefly on Tuesday, and he will wish to address the Committee in this debate. I confirm that the Opposition believe that it would have been much better had the Government been honest enough to list at the beginning of the Bill all 32 categories in the framework decision. That is perhaps the biggest gap in clause 1. If the Government were being honest, they would have made it clear that the provision was really an attempt to introduce the European concept of corpus juris into United Kingdom law by the back door.
A range of organisations, from those traditionally regarded as on the left of politics, such as Liberty and Justice, right through to those on the right of politics, such as the Freedom Association and the Democracy
Movement, have also argued that, if the Government were being honest, they should have set out at the beginning of the Bill the 32 vague categories in the framework decision. The fact that they are not listed there is one of the chief things wrong with the clause. That is the mischief in it.
The Opposition have said repeatedly that if part 1 of the Bill were restricted to dealing with terrorism, these very draconian measures would have been acceptable, given the exceptional risk and threat of terrorist offences. However, it is not acceptable for this part to cover such vague crimes as xenophobia and computer-related crime. As I said, the Government should have made it clear at the outset that they were to take away the historic right of British citizens to habeas corpus and should have set out the 32 categories. I shall not detain the Committee further. I simply wanted to set out where the Opposition think the mischief lies.
I apologise for not having been here yesterday, but I was a late addition to the Committee and could not come. I shall briefly restate some of the points that I made on Second Reading. Part 1 is fundamentally misconceived. It is our job as Members to protect, not to detract from, the long-won freedoms of citizens of this country.
The Bill will have scandalous consequences. It is difficult to believe that a Government who pride themselves—as everyone can—on having an honourable record on human rights, individual freedoms and judicial protection for the individual in standing up to the powers of the state, could ever have entered into this European framework document and translated it into this legislation. That is not to say that we do not need to make changes to extradition law. I first made this point after the Prime Minister's statement immediately after 11 September regarding four terrorists who are still in this country. He blamed the legislation, the details of which we shall discuss later, but I believe that we can blame the courts and the Home Office for a large part of the delay at least.
I entirely agree that we need some changes to our extradition procedures. There are far too many appeals. There are two tracks: judicial review and extradition. I would have little problem with the reform if it were based on part 2, but I have problems with the residual powers to the Home Secretary under clause 193. The reforms proposed in part 2 are right. They are sensible and allow people the freedom to challenge extradition, but reduce the number of appeals, and will inevitably reduce the amount of time taken.
I have no problem with fast-tracking certain countries, as I have no problem with the judicial systems of many of our European partners. Not all of them, however, and certainly not all the candidate
countries that may come in, will become party to the framework decision and thus beneficiaries of the legislation. With regard to the offences listed in the framework document, the legislation is removing all the protections that have been built up for British citizens over hundreds of years. Not a single protection will be left standing. Dual criminality, prima facie cases, which have gone already, and the Home Secretary's powers are all at the heart of extradition law.
If the Government are using the European framework document as a way of dealing with the problem of extraditing terrorists, or those accused of terrorism, more quickly, that is an excuse, not a reason. In Britain, three people are in jail accused of the African embassy bombings in 1998. They are still in this country. It took more than two years to reach the divisional court and another year to reach the House of Lords. That was a year ago, and the Home Secretary has still not made his decision under the Act on those cases. If those three people had been extradited and could have been questioned, who knows whether the recent bombings in Mombassa or other acts by al-Qaeda terrorists or other groups of terrorists unassociated with al-Qaeda could have been prevented.
Extradition was sought—I do not remember whether it was to the United States or Kenya. It is a scandal that those people are still here. They are taking advantage of the protections that I want to keep, but are using them to delay extradition for four years. The courts have much to answer for. Those delays are utterly scandalous. The judges, the divisional court and the House of Lords should not have allowed procedures to delay the extradition of those people for so long, and the Home Secretary has much to answer for in not having ordered their extradition 12 months after the House of Lords dealt with their cases.
However, those are not the worst cases. The worst case by far is that of Rachid Ramda, an Algerian accused of the Paris metro bombings in 1995. He was arrested in November 1995, so he has been here for more than seven years. It took a year to reach the divisional court, and another two years to reach the House of Lords, at which point he dropped his appeal. It then took the Home Secretary 29 months—nearly two and a half years—to order his removal. We cannot blame the legislation for the courts and the Home Secretary each taking two and a half years. That demonstrates a manifest lack of urgency on the part of both those institutions. The Home Secretary ordered his removal, but the House of Lords found fault with that, and the Home Secretary has been asked to reconsider his decision.
That is a scandal. Who knows what Rachid Ramda might have done? If the accusations against him are correct, he is involved in the Algerian terrorist group, the GIA. It would appear that the people who have been arrested in connection with the discovery of ricin in London are also connected with that group. If he had been questioned by the French security authorities about the Paris metro bombings, who knows whether
that might have led them to links with other Algerian terrorist groups? It is not an adequate reason for bringing forward part 1 of the Bill to deal with terrorism. The appeal process could have been tightened up, and if the Lord Chancellor spent a bit of time kicking some of his fellow judges into acting with a greater sense of urgency and the Home Secretary had spent some of his time dealing with these important issues rather than letting them languish on his desk—for years, in one case—we would have made a great deal of progress with those cases and other terrorist outrages may have been prevented.
My main objection to the Bill is the list of offences in the European framework document, and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) referred to its vagueness. What does computer-related crime mean? I suppose that it is intended to mean mass frauds committed over the internet, or the mass distribution of pornographic or illegal material or incitement to violence. Does computer-related crime also include a 16-year-old dopehead stealing someone's computer? That sounds like a computer-related crime to me. I am not surprised that the draftsman declined to incorporate the list into the Bill directly but chose to do so by reference. No draftsman of British legislation and no British lawyer would produce such an unbelievably vague document. It cries out for further and better particulars, to use a legal expression. It is too vague to be the basis of any criminal law procedure. If people are to be arrested, extradited and imprisoned for crimes, they are entitled to a more precise definition of what they are accused of.
I am worried that the proposal does not define criminal offences. That is the procedure for legislation in the European Union and in our partner countries, but that is not a reason for sacrificing the long-held traditions of our own legal system, which I would argue is superior to the legal systems of many of our European partners. If anything, they should draw on our legal system rather than we on theirs. I am especially concerned that the dual criminality rule is to be dropped. That is the fundamental point about the list in the framework document. The only thing that separates it from offences that are not on that list is the absence of the requirement about dual criminality. That has been an aspect of extradition law for hundreds of years and is a fundamental protection. We too often think only about how to get back a German, French or Austrian person who has committed a crime in this country to stand trial here. I am concerned about forcing British citizens, our constituents, to stand trial in another country for something that is not an offence in the United Kingdom. They should not have to do that, and I am horrified that a fundamental, valuable protection has been dropped.
The final element of democratic accountability in extradition, which is the Home Secretary's discretion about whether to extradite someone, has also been dropped. At present, he has two discretions in the process and the proceedings can be shortened by reducing it to one, which is proposed in part 2.
Nevertheless, the final, residual power of the Home Secretary in clause 193 is tightly circumscribed—I shall argue that it is far too tightly circumscribed when we come to that clause. Two of the fundamental protections that British law has long accorded to its citizens are being sacrificed on the altar of the European Union's desire that we should all have the same procedure. That is not necessary, especially if it means our having their procedures rather than the other way round.
We have already removed the prima facie case requirement for our European partners and I have misgivings about that, but it is water under the bridge. The fact that it is the only one of two requirements left reinforces my argument for dual criminality remaining a defence.
I am thoroughly enjoying the hon. Gentleman's peroration. Will he clarify that his view, and presumably that of his party, is that someone from another country who commits a crime in the United Kingdom that is not a crime in their native country should not be prosecuted for that crime? Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was hinting by referring to my peroration, but while I am getting there, I have not quite got there yet. If we seek the extradition of, for example, a German citizen for a crime that we allege he committed here, it should be a matter for the German courts. They have procedures for that. If one of their procedures is that dual criminality is required, we should have to establish dual criminality. I have no problem with that. It is the present system. It is a fallacy to assume that if the Bill had not been introduced and if the European framework decision were not implemented, foreigners could come here, commit crimes and never be extradited back to the United Kingdom to face trial. They would have the defences that their own domestic law provides for or against extradition, but that is all that they would have and that is what they have now.
There is an assumption that somehow the judicial proceedings of all our European partners are of equal validity. I doubt whether any Member has not had a case of a constituent languishing in jail—usually a Spanish jail—waiting to be charged on some relatively minor drugs offence such as the possession of cannabis. We have all had those cases. Frankly, the Spanish judicial system in that respect is a disgrace. There was the case of the British plane-spotters in Greece. If the Bill had been enacted and those people had returned to the United Kingdom before they were charged, they would have had to be extradited. No doubt the Greeks could have framed a charge that related to terrorism in some way. That is a scandal. We then saw the farce of those proceedings.
I have no problem with the judicial proceedings in France, although the House of Lords does. Rachid Ramda has been able to drag out his appeal on the basis that he cannot get a fair trial in France because he is an Arab and a Muslim. I have no problem with that. I do not have any problem with most European judicial systems, but I have a problem with Spain and
Greece. I also have a problem with some of the countries that might become members of the EU such as Turkey, which will automatically accede to the framework decision and become beneficiaries of this legislation. If we go down this route, let us approve these countries on a one-by-one basis. Let us ensure that if we allow our constituents to be handed over to foreign judicial authorities, those authorities have standards of procedure, fairness and independence of judges with which we are happy.
If someone is apprehended for a crime committed in Spain and arrested, charged and convicted, does the hon. Gentleman believe that they ought to serve the sentence?
Yes, of course. If a British citizen who was in Spain, committed a crime and was arrested in Spain, it would be entirely a matter for Spanish law. Anyone who commits a crime in a foreign country takes the risk that he will serve some time in jail or be given some other punishment. If the hypothetical German had been arrested and tried here, exactly the same would apply. We are talking about extraditing someone from his own country to the other country.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the only difference between the case that he agrees with me about and that of someone coming back to the UK, is that it is all right if one gets back to the UK, but if one is arrested in Spain, one should go through the judicial process? Does he believe that if one commits a crime in Spain and manages to get the UK, the same principles do not apply?
A British citizen in Britain is entitled to the protection of British law. A German citizen in Germany is entitled to the protection of German law. A major part of our job is to look after the freedoms and legal rights of citizens of this country, especially our constituents. I see no problem with that. If the hon. Gentleman's thesis is correct, why have we built up over two or three hundred years a body of law on extradition, which I think was codified in an Act in the late 19th century? Such protections and freedoms have been around for a long time.
We all know that charges can be trivial or brought for political reasons. That is one of the things that concerns me about the judicial systems of some European countries. It obviously concerns the Government because they have introduced a couple of clauses that I do not think are required by the European framework directive or were mentioned in the consultation document. One relates to extraneous consideration and the other to human rights. Obviously the Government have some concern that extraneous considerations might come into the decision of a foreign judicial authority in issuing an arrest warrant; otherwise, why is the provision in the Bill? As an extraneous consideration, it is mainly to do with race and religion.
Which countries should we be worried about because they might prejudice a trial or keep someone a prisoner on other ostensible grounds when the real reason is connected with race or religion? Why is there a need to reintroduce Human Rights Act protections
when we know that all our European partners are party to the European convention on human rights? Such countries have standards to maintain and if they do not maintain them, they can be challenged. So why are we introducing a clause that allows a judge—indeed, compels him—to examine whether human rights are being protected or threatened by extradition procedures? Surely that shows that the Government are concerned about the adequacy and fairness of the judicial systems of some of our European Union partners. Will the Minister deal with that in his response?
I have no problem with the provisions on category 2 countries, but the wider consequences of the Bill will come back to haunt us or our successor MPs. We will find that some of our constituents have been extradited to a country in whose judicial system we have little faith. They will languish in a foreign jail, perhaps without trial or even a formal charge, because of ambiguities in the arrest warrant. The provision refers to ''the accused'', but it would be better to refer to those ''facing charges''. Many of our continental partners have investigating magistrates who are entitled to arrest people as part of their investigation, which we could deal with through amendments. It is important to establish whether people whose arrest is sought by an investigating magistrate can be extradited under these procedures.
We will all encounter cases where people have been extradited to other countries with no defence whatever: they can say nothing to a British court or a democratically accountable British Home Secretary to prevent their extradition. Let us consider Spain or Turkey. The Prime Minister is anxious for Turkey to become a member of the European Union, so let us say that it does so in five or six years' time. Judicial systems in those countries fall way below the standards of our own. A constituent might languish in jail without charge or trial for a long time in the most appalling conditions with no opportunity whatever, as I said, to mount an argument in a British court to help them.
A piece of paper produced by the foreign authorities will simply be rubber stamped by a British court, denying all grounds for a substantive appeal and any discretion on the part of the Home Secretary. The defence that the action was not a crime in the United Kingdom will not be valid. It will result in some scandalous consequences and I am amazed that Government Back Benchers—I understand why the Minister has to go along with this nonsense—are unprepared to stand up for the long-won freedoms of our constituents against the procedures that are set out in the Bill.
We shall come on to possible ways of improving the provisions through amendments, but if we pass the clause as it stands, part 1 will be a scandalous dereliction of Members' duties to the freedoms of our constituents.
The hon. Gentleman's contribution was well worth waiting for: his outrage has been splendid. He was enraged because we had not put into the Bill the list of the 32 offences for which dual criminality can be dropped. That is indeed appalling and we should have done so! This is our second sitting, having had Second Reading before Christmas, and where is the Opposition amendment proposing to include that list? I cannot see it on the amendment paper. If the Opposition feel so strongly about this matter and are so outraged about it—I do not blame the hon. Gentleman personally; he obviously has different priorities from those of the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench—why has no amendment been tabled to allow us to debate the issue?
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon was also outraged about delays, but he knows full well that I cannot go into the detail of individual cases. To suggest that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is holding up cases because he is not bothered to deal with them is outrageous and silly in the extreme. As he should know, the present legal arrangements allow defendants and their lawyers to make repeat representations and to give new evidence, all of which has to be examined and re-examined. As he said so clearly, it is possible for extradition arrangements under current legislation to be spun out for years. That is happening now and cases cost a fortune—on average £125,000—which is why we need reform.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath rehearsed the assertion that the Bill will be corpus juris by the back door. Mutual recognition is the alternative to corpus juris. We have to deal with the consequences of EU membership and the freedom of movement across borders that we have. Unless we are prepared to tolerate a situation in which two different sets of rules apply depending on whether someone manages to cross a border that is simple to cross, which my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) exposed clearly in his two interventions, we cannot ignore the need for the reforms. We have the option of going for some form of corpus juris, in which case we would not have a generic list that has to be defined in the warrant of the issuing state but instead define exactly at a European level what is an extraditable offence. The road to corpus juris in Europe is that rather than mutual recognition, for which the Government have pushed and the principles of which are enshrined in the Bill.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, although it would have been better if he had done so earlier. On his point about the list being in the Bill, we made it clear on Second Reading and in moving amendments in our previous sitting that we want part 1 to apply only to terrorism. We were saying that if the Government were honest about their intentions, they would put the list in the Bill. We do not believe in it because we believe that the list is too vague, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon and I have both said. As we do not agree with the list, it would have been inappropriate for us to
introduce an amendment to include it in the Bill. However, it is proper for us to say that if the Government are being honest about these matters, they should include the list in the Bill.
I shall make three further points. As for people languishing in prisons abroad and awaiting investigation, it is clear that extradition may not take place for the purposes of investigation. It may be made only for the purposes of bringing someone to trial. Candidate countries were mentioned, and they will all have to meet the requirements of European Union conventions before they are allowed access to the mutual recognition arrangements. We have built in safeguards so that the systems in those countries can be examined against the requirements and, if necessary, the countries can be removed from the arrangements. We have tried to cover the situation that applies in countries whose jurisprudence is perhaps weaker than ours, but surely it is in everyone's interest to work to strengthen those jurisdictions and bring them up to the levels that have been enjoyed by our citizens for a long time.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon repeats the allegation that we are doing away with long-standing rights that have been built up over many years, which ignores the fact that the requirements of the European convention on human rights are contained not only in the framework decision, but in the Bill. That gives clear safeguards against unfounded and unreasonable extradition requests that would be considered by a British judge before extradition is agreed to.
I shall return to the delays in the case of Rachid Ramda, because the Minister took me to task for criticising the Home Secretary personally. I realise that the Home Secretary was not sitting with the file on his desk for two and a half years. However, in the case of Rachid Ramda, a committal hearing took place six months after he was arrested. It then took 12 months for the case to come to court. That is ridiculous in the case of someone charged with a serious terrorist offence, and I criticise the court system for that, because that is not to do with the Home Secretary. However, it then took 24 months for the case to go to appeal before the House of Lords, although the appeal was then dropped.
Our court system took three years over the case, and in the end did not deal with it. That is scandalous, and I do not believe that the Lord Chancellor—not specifically this Lord Chancellor, as some of the process took place under the Conservative Government—should tolerate that. Someone should make it clear to the court system that that sort of delay is unacceptable. The appeal to the House of Lords was dropped in May 1999, and it is now two and a half years later. There is no possible reason or excuse for the Home Office to take two and a half years over the matter. I realise that such a case is difficult, and that it must be put together in such a way that the House of Lords cannot chuck it out. However, it is inexcusable for there to be a delay of two and a half years in the case of a friendly country, one of our two closest allies, demanding the extradition of someone for a serious terrorist offence concerning bombs on the Paris metro.
The hon. Gentleman advances a good argument for the need for reform, but he knows that I cannot go into detail on individual cases. He has no idea what representations have been made over the period to which he refers or what problems have been resolved, and I am not free to explain those to him. The issues that he raises are outrageous and unjustified. There is no deliberate delay. There is a judicial process and an extradition process that is cumbersome and wide open to the kind of abuses that the hon. Gentleman has exposed.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 4.