Clause 63 - Extradition offences: person not sentenced for offence

Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 14th January 2003.

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Amendment proposed: No. 68, in

clause 63, page 30, line 12, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c) and insert—

'(b) a judicial decision made by a judge of a High Court of a category 1 territory in which the presumption of innocence applies shows that the conduct constitutes a terrorist offence;

(c) the terrorist offence is punishable under the law of the category 1 territory with a sentence of imprisonment of three years or more.'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 7.

Division number 14 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 63 - Extradition offences: person not sentenced for offence

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I beg to move amendment No. 150, in

clause 63, page 30, line 17, leave out '12 months' and insert 'three years'.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 70, in

clause 63, page 30, line 25, leave out from 'imprisonment' to end of line 26 and insert

'of three years or more'.

Amendment No. 73, in

clause 63, page 31, line 6, leave out from 'imprisonment' to end of line 7 and insert

'of three years or more'.

Amendment No. 76, in

clause 64, page 31, line 45, leave out '4 months' and insert '3 years'.

Amendment No. 77, in

clause 64, page 32, line 8, leave out '4 months' and insert '3 years'.

Amendment No. 78, in

clause 64, page 32, line 14, leave out '4 months' and insert '3 years'.

Amendment No. 79, in

clause 64, page 32, line 19, leave out '12 months' and insert '3 years'.

Amendment No. 80, in

clause 64, page 32, line 26, leave out '12 months' and insert '3 years'.

Amendment No. 81, in

clause 64, page 32, line 29, leave out '4 months' and insert '3 years'.

Amendment No. 82, in

clause 64, page 32, line 36, leave out '12 months' and insert '3 years'.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The amendment would replace the term of 12 months or greater in subsection (2)(c), with a term of three years, which is the provision specified in the European arrest warrant framework decision. The Conservative amendments seek to amend

subsequent parts of the clause in a similar way, and no doubt the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will have something to say about them.

I will be interested to hear from the Minister why the Government believed it to be necessary to ''gold-plate'' the European legislation in this way. In part 1, there is a fairly coercive system for which there must be certain checks and balances. One of the most important checks—or possibly a balance, I am never quite sure—must be the seriousness of the offence that is involved. There should be no opportunity for abuse of extradition requests for offences that are trivial or administrative in nature. The other balance is that of dual criminality, which acts as an important safeguard, but that balance does not exist for this subsection. In such circumstances, it must surely be appropriate that a higher standard or more serious offence must be anticipated. The reduction to 12 months will bring a wide panoply of offences under the ambit of part 1 and subsection (2). There would have been good reason for the framework directive to provide for three years, so there must be an even better reason to depart from that.

Amendment No. 150 does not affect subsequent clauses, in which the 12-month sentence limit would still be open when dual criminality were established, although if the Conservative amendments were accepted, the position would be different. My amendment relates only to subsection (2), and on that basis, I will be interested to hear the Minister's reasoning.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon 11:15 am, 14th January 2003

I support amendment No. 150, but I hope also to stray slightly to ask the Minister two brief questions. About nine minutes are left before the end of the sitting.

The Select Committee recommended that we should return to the three-year limit, so will the Minister answer the points of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and say why he rejects the Select Committee's advice? Will he tell us what offences will fall into the gap and will now be included as a result of reducing the barrier from three years to 12 months?

My second question relates to the Select Committee's central recommendation that in a case without dual criminality, the Home Secretary should have the final decision. We may return to debate the point on clause 193, where the Home Secretary's discretion is severely circumscribed. I understand why the Government want to circumscribe, because the Home Secretary is one avenue of appeal. However, they have reduced from two to one the number of occasions on which the Home Secretary has to make a decision that may be challenged. There is an argument for saying that if the judge has certified that there is no dual criminality, the Secretary of State should have a final say in those narrow circumstances. Does the Minister not agree?

My third question relates to one of my central objections to the framework document, which is that the definition of the offences is so vague. A British

parliamentary draftsman would not include such phrases, and I want to pick on one, which is ''computer-related crime''. That is what we are allowing part 1 to provide for, but I want to know what ''computer-related crime'' means. Does it mean a teenager nicking a CD from someone else's computer or someone conducting a fraud via the internet? The range is vast, which reinforces the point about dual criminality and a subsequent decision. If the Government will not give way on dual criminality because of the framework decision, will it at least introduce the Home Secretary's final discretion in cases in which dual criminality has not been established so that he could rule that it would not be in the interests of justice or our national concerns? When we debate clause 193, I will move an amendment that would allow the Home Secretary to show much wider discretion, but I would be grateful if the Minister could answer the two additional points now.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I will also be brief, because I want to give the Minister a chance to respond to the concerns that have been expressed, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon.

As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, our amendments go wider than his. We feel passionately that we should have the three-year protection that the framework decision sets out. The Minister says that previous UK law includes the 12-month limit, and we have debated the point before. However, this proposal is far reaching, which is why we strongly agree with the Home Affairs Committee. Given that the Committee is dominated by Government Members and chaired by a recent former Labour Minister, its attack on the Bill uses extraordinarily strong wording. Recommendation 51 says:

''We can see no justification for eroding the basic level of protection provided by the framework decision and we are dismayed that the Home Office is seeking to do so. We recommend that the three-year limit specified in the framework decision should be retained in UK domestic law.''

It cannot be put more baldly.

I also strongly agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon said about widening the Home Secretary's discretion. We should have parliamentary scrutiny of that discretion, but that will happen only if the Home Secretary, who is responsible to Parliament, has a wider discretion. As my hon. Friend said, we will return to that issue.

I sought to draft amendments to reflect exactly what the Home Affairs Committee says in its recommendation 51. However, my ingenuity was insufficient to table amendments that could be debated at this stage in our proceedings. I may try again to see whether we can probe the issue in a different way. We may have to debate it in another stand part debate. We strongly agree with the Select Committee that the Home Secretary, who is responsible to Parliament, should take a separate decision on whether to extradite in cases where the alleged offence is not a crime in the United Kingdom.

We have only a few minutes left to debate the clause on stand part, but I cannot stress too strongly how

unhappy we are that the list of 32 offences in the framework decision includes such vague offences. I repeat that it is entirely inappropriate for all these powers to apply to such a vague list of offences, some of which are not crimes in the UK. It is unacceptable, and we hope that the Government will reconsider them. They may be forced to reconsider in another place.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Liberal Democrat, Torridge and West Devon

The hon. Gentleman and I both have reservations about the list. Does he agree that the Minister should consider a fundamental protection in that some of the offences in the list should not be brought into effect, given their nebulous nature, unless all parties agree on the full extent of liability and the full interpretation of the offences that are so glibly listed?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I agree, but we go further when we say that part 1 is acceptable only in relation to terrorism and not to the other 31 offences, as the hon. Gentleman notes. I have expressed my views in the strongest possible terms, and want to hear what the Minister has to say. He must understand that we cannot accept what he is saying about eroding the protections that British citizens historically have had.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, I must place on the record that, from the start, we flagged up to the Opposition that the clause was fundamental, that they had fundamental objections to it, and that they could do whatever they wanted to do with the time allowed to the Committee. As late as last night, I pointed out to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that we might have some difficulty in responding to objections to part 1. However, the Opposition had no desire to change the timetable for the Committee. We now have the clause, with which the Opposition fundamentally disagree, but I do not have the chance to reply. It is not the fault of the Government or the Government Whip. We warned against this happening and tried to ensure that it did not happen repeatedly.

We are content to apply the EAW to all serious crimes. Currently, that means crimes that attract a sentence of at least 12 months or more in prison. The level is high enough to preclude extradition where the effort and costs involved outweigh the interests of justice, but is low enough to catch relatively serious crime. It is worth pointing out that most of our EU partners have lower sentencing thresholds, so an offence that they consider falls within the one-to-three-year bracket will, in all probability, carry a maximum sentence of more than three years in the UK. To raise the threshold to three years, as the Liberal Democrats suggest, could prevent extradition for some offences where most people would believe it to be desirable. Let us be clear about what the amendments seek to do. They relate to cases where we do not intend to impose dual criminality as well as to the ones where we do. In those instances, too, the amendments seek to impose a three-year threshold in cases where we are quite prepared to extradite, as was the Conservative party throughout its period in government. In opposition, however, it is now saying that we should no longer be able to do so. That would be the effect of the amendments. They are not simply about the removal of dual criminality.

The Opposition's position is even more ludicrous on conviction cases. Let us assume that someone has been convicted and sentenced to two years—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [29 October 2002] and the Order of the Committee [7 January 2002], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 7.

Division number 15 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 63 - Extradition offences: person not sentenced for offence

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 6.

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Aye: 7 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to

Clause 63 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 64 ordered to stand part of the Bill.