Clause 199 - Form of documents

Part of Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 21 January 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 2:45, 21 January 2003

I want to raise briefly an important point about clause 199. The shortest clauses often hide a multitude of potential sins, and I have a nasty suspicion that that is true of this clause, which will give the Secretary of State an extraordinarily wide and unfettered power. It states:

''The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe the form of any document required for the purposes of this Act.''

The Minister may say that such a phrase is common in legislation, but at least some of the documents required should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Will the Minister say, first, whether those regulations will always be debated in the House? If the answer is yes, there will be some parliamentary scrutiny, but if the clause gives the Secretary of State a general regulation-making power, which means that a document can be set up in the form that he or his officials want, without it coming before Parliament, it is a matter of concern.

We have already discussed the fact that the form of the European arrest warrant—a six-page example was sent to me—does not fit with the traditions of UK law. Will this little clause give the Secretary of State the power to rewrite a document because the authorities in Brussels or Strasbourg decided that they wanted a different kind of warrant, for example? If so, he could decide to sign up to it in the same way as the Government signed up to the original framework decision, without any consideration by Parliament of the form of the document. That worries me. My hon. Friends the Members for Henley (Mr. Johnson) and for Upminster and many others share my concern about the Secretary of State having carte blanche, in the most literal use of that phrase—he will be given a white card.

A future Secretary of State could decide to use a form that was very different from anything in current law on extradition. A responsible Government would not behave in a way that was alien to the traditions of UK law, but I am always worried about open-ended, widely worded clauses, because Governments cannot bind their successors. If a future Government wanted to make some radical changes to extradition law, they could say, ''All we are doing is using the power given to the Secretary of State by the Extradition Act 2003''.

The Minister can reassure us by telling the Committee that any regulations made under the clause will have full parliamentary scrutiny and will be subject to the affirmative procedure, not go through on the nod.