We are coming towards the end of the Committee, and we now have the question of commencement. On this occasion, I am indebted to the important organisation Liberty for suggesting an amendment. I tabled an amendment about transitional provisions whose inclusion Liberty proposed in place of clause 201, but I realised that that amendment could not be selected because we wanted to delete the clause and replace it with another. The debate technically has to be on clause stand part.
For the benefit of the Committee and the Minister, in case he did not look at our original amendment, we wanted to say that all the provisions of the Bill up to and including clause 200 would apply only to conduct committed after Royal Assent. We are now into our regular argument about whether legislation should have retrospective effect. I am sure that the Minister will immediately stand up and say that if we do this, there is a great danger that people will slip out of criminal proceedings that they should rightly face. I understand those concerns, but existing legislation will cover any offences committed before the Bill receives Royal Assent.
I quote what Liberty said to us, and, no doubt, to the Liberal Democrats and others:
''We urge the Government to take advantage of the transitional provisions allowed for in Article 32 of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) Framework Decision by making a statement to the effect that it will continue to deal with requests relating to acts committed before the specified date''—
Liberty chose the date of the framework decision, 7 August 2002; I suggested instead going on to the date of Royal Assent to the Bill—
''in accordance with the extradition system applicable before January 2004. There is nothing in the Bill that indicates that it will not be retrospective and we would urge the government to incorporate such a statement in the Bill''.
I have not had the opportunity or resources to check, but Liberty understands that the Governments of France, Italy and Austria have already made similar statements of non-retrospectivity, if I may put it that way. I do not know whether the Minister and his civil servants can confirm or deny that, but I am prepared to take Liberty's word for it because in my experience it always checks matters carefully.
Liberty's briefing continues:
''Retrospective application of the Bill may lead to situations where requests are received which apply to people who may have been involved in past conduct''
which will not be properly covered by the Bill. All members of the Committee are familiar with the argument about retrospectivity. I have placed the issue
firmly before the Committee. Liberty does not necessarily have the perfect wording, but it has suggested a substitution. I do not suggest that I have the perfect wording, but I want to raise the issue because those in another place who are experts on extradition law might want to discuss it in more detail than we have time for this afternoon.