Clause 48

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 252, in clause 48, page 62, line 1, leave out subsection (2).

We come now to a separate part of the Bill that deals not with asset recovery, but with matters relating to extradition and, in particular, the issue of the adoption of the Schengen information system II: how it applies to us in the UK and the interrelationship with the European arrest warrant. It is worth noting that the UK is not a part of the Schengen convention and does not currently have access to the existing Schengen information system. The framework decision underlying the EAW, though, envisages that an issuing judicial authority would transmit an EAW directly to the receiving country’s judicial authority, or by means of issuing an alert for the request of a person through the Schengen information system.

As we heard in evidence, the UK currently receives EAWs via Interpol channels, or through the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Amendment 252 is a probing amendment tabled in order better to understand the relationship between a situation where an article 26 alert has been entered on the Schengen information system, and where it has not. My understanding was that the change to the Extradition Act 2003 was intended to facilitate the UK’s compliance with the framework decision, yet subsection (2) appears to go further than this, enabling the transmission of an EAW by electronic means other than an alert on the new Schengen information system II. What do the Government envisage by that?

Will the Minister also explain what reciprocal arrangements exist with other countries to enable them to receive and process EAWs issued by the UK and transmitted in electronic form, as envisaged by the clause? Can he confirm how EAWs are currently transmitted by the UK to other countries? What impact does he expect this provision to have in terms of additional requests for extradition arising from alerts through the Schengen information system II?

In evidence to the Committee, we heard that there was an expectation that there would be a considerable increase in the number of EAWs, which would require processing by law enforcement in this country as a consequence of the changes envisaged by this clause and the Bill. Does the Minister agree with that evidence and what does he expect the cost impact will be for police forces in processing such requests? He will well appreciate the budget pressure on police forces at the moment and he will note the reports today of police forces having to reduce the number of police officers as a consequence of such budgetary pressure. What cost impact will the additional processing, required by an increase in EAWs, have on the police forces that will have to deal with arresting people for matters associated with them?

The Minister will recall that we were told that a significant number of EAW requests were being received from Poland. Does he envisage that these changes will have a bigger impact on police forces that have seen an above-average increase in population due to migration—the county of Cambridgeshire obviously springs to mind? Previous comments have highlighted the knock-on impact on police budgets of the cost of translations and of addressing an increase in population of workers coming from other accession states in the EU. What assessment has he made of the impact of those changes, particularly on those police force areas that have already seen challenges and issues to their budgets arising from them? Therefore, if further EAWs are anticipated, as seems to have been suggested in evidence, what impact does he expect this to have on police forces generally and on specific police forces that have seen an increase in population due to migration and accessions to the EU? It is important to understand this in terms of the impact of the clause the Government are proposing and what preparations have been made, are being made and will be made to ensure that any impact is properly assessed and calculated and taken into account by police forces.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister 12:30 pm, 24th February 2009

The amendment has been correctly put by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. I wondered why this subsection was included and looked at the explanatory notes, which are difficult to follow unless you are an expert on the 2003 Act and extradition in general. They specify on page 38 that the UK

“be required to ensure that all current alerts relating to people wanted for arrest for extradition purposes which have been entered on to either SIS or SIS II by other member states have been validated. These provisions accordingly allow for the consideration and certification of article 26 alerts and extradition alerts transmitted under SIS (article 95 alerts).”

Presumably, this subsection relates to those but it would be helpful if the Minister could explain from where the requirement stems.

I have one other question about this clause, which it seems appropriate to raise now, in relation to the date included in new subsection (6)(a). There is an amendment that could be raised at this point, but I have two. The Bar Council says that the reference to 12 December 2006 in new subsection (6)(a) should read 20 December  2006, which it describes as the date on which the Committee of Permanent Representatives confirmed its agreement on the draft Council decision. Justice, while giving no explanation, argues that instead of

Council Decision on the establishment, operation and use of the second generation Schengen Information System of 12 December 2006”, it should say,

“Council Decision 2007/533/JHA of 12 June 2007 on the establishment, operation and use of the second generation Schengen Information System”.

I do not feel strongly about it except in the interests of accuracy. We have two lawyers and two different opinions and presumably the Government lawyer has a third opinion. It would be helpful if the Minister put on record why he believes that the date provided is appropriate.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon’s comment about two lawyers with two different opinions made me laugh. That often happens, unfortunately. As always, it depends on which one is listened to and agreed with.

I shall make a couple of specific remarks and finish with some general points. Starting with the section on extradition, we all accept the need for extradition but it should be proportionate. I will say with respect to the later amendments on this that it is done in a proportionate way consistent with human rights legislation. We all agree with that. I was struck by the fact that both Liberty and the Bar Council saw nothing in the proposed new section that they regarded as a “titanic battle”—I think those were the words used. The debates around extradition and the fact that we have carefully tried to put improvements in the Bill, including clause 48, to improve how it works rather than to make huge changes were reflected in the fact that neither Liberty nor the Bar Council saw huge issues in this part of the Bill. I gently remind the hon. Gentleman of that important fact.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch asked how many additional arrests we thought there might be as a consequence of the measure. In 2007, 504 EAW arrests were made in the UK. As he said, Interpol or SOCA currently alert the UK to EAWs. It is estimated that the UK receives only about half of all EAW alerts, which is concerning. It is understood that alerts on the Schengen information system will have increased by 250 per cent. between 2006 and 2010, which is fairly significant. The estimated rise of 1,200 additional arrests is based on a range of data, including an EU paper on SIS growth. Therefore, we expect a significant increase in arrests as a result of becoming part of the SIS II. As we have talked about on other matters, providing it is done with due process, it should mean that we can help to catch criminals and stop them avoiding justice by moving across boundaries.

The hon. Gentleman asked about reciprocal arrangements. Arrangements are reciprocal and we receive and send EAW requests by e-mail.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Proposed new subsection (2) appears to address electronic transmission. I hope that the Minister will come to that in a minute, but if electronic transmission is already happening, why is proposed new subsection (2) necessary?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

I will come to that in a little while. I will slightly chide the hon. Gentleman on the issue of costs to the police. We can quote today’s papers but the latest figures actually show that police numbers have gone up in some forces. They may have gone down in others, and I cannot remember exactly what the split is, but in approximately 20 forces the numbers went up and in approximately 20 they went down. Before anybody says that I do not know that there are 43 forces, I do, I am simply saying that it is approximately 20. If the Opposition were to form a Government, they would delegate budgets to local police forces that would then determine the best use of those resources, unless they intend to dictate exactly what numbers the forces should have. The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting political point but, according to the latest figures, the numbers went up.

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point about the additional burden of an increased number of EAWs, which the Metropolitan police also mentioned in its evidence. Frankly, it will be for local police forces to deal with the requests that they get under the new system. They will prioritise and deal with them in the same way that they prioritise and deal with all kinds of requests in the course of upholding law and order and tackling criminality in their own area. It will not be the case that additional resources will be provided for that.

The hon. Gentleman then went on to ask what can be done about the impact that immigrants from a particular country may have on an area. He used the example of Poland and the impact on an area. A new fund called the migration impact fund will be available in different areas from April. It will come from fees paid by people coming into the country and will be delegated to regional government offices, which will be responsible for distributing the money. In response to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), who asked a similar question about some of the impacts of migration on areas, I have suggested to the Cambridgeshire police force, for example, that the fund will be available.

The fund will not be for the police only. It will also be available to other local service providers, so that if there is an impact in an area from a particular country or group of migrants, they can bid for funds. As I said, there are no plans to increase police resources, but the migration impact fund will be available should people wish to apply for it.

I am looking for the answer to the question about 20 December. I am sure that it has arrived, but I cannot see it at the moment. Perhaps someone could help me out, as it has disappeared among the plethora of paper that I have. I will deal with the question; I have no doubt that the paper will appear.

The amendment seeks to remove a subsection of the clause that deals with the Schengen information system II, which allows law enforcement agencies in the UK to certify incoming European arrest warrants that are transmitted to the UK electronically but outside the SIS II. The provision that the amendment would remove mirrors a provision already contained in the Extradition Act 2003, which enables the UK to consider and certify a large number of European arrest warrants that are transmitted by e-mail.

When the UK connects to the second-generation Schengen information system, the vast majority of European arrest warrants will be transmitted via that  database. This refers to the points made by the hon. Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon and for Hornchurch on subsection (2). However, countries that are not yet part of the SIS II network may wish to continue sending European arrest warrants by electronic means such as e-mail, and we may wish to do the same. Until the UK joins the SIS II, it is vital that law enforcement agencies continue to have the ability to certify arrest warrants that are sent electronically—in other words, by this means—and that includes any requests that we receive from countries that are not part of the SIS II and also arrest warrants that we may wish to send. Removing the power could have an impact on our ability to deal with criminals who move across borders.

In reply to the question from the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon about new subsection (6)(a), we agree that the correction needs to be made, but parliamentary counsel has confirmed that it can be dealt with as a printing correction, so no amendment is needed. I thank him for pointing that out.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I am grateful, and I take no credit because the correction was supplied to me. I suggested two changes, and I presume the Minister is referring to the one that retains the Council decision but moves it to the 20th instead of the 12th. I presume that that is the change that he is accepting, rather than the one that would move it to June 2007.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security) 12:45 pm, 24th February 2009

Yes, that is correct, and I hope that it is helpful. It will be changed as a matter of drafting rather than as an amendment.

I think we all agree that the UK becoming a member of Schengen information system will be helpful. We need to continue to receive and transmit information by electronic means outside the new SIS II. I hope that the hon. Member for Hornchurch accepts that and that he will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful for the Minister’s helpful explanation and clarification. In the light of his comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.