Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:12 pm on 20th April 2017.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East 3:12 pm, 20th April 2017

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and a great pleasure to follow David T. C. Davies. We are taking part in a very important debate. He may have lamented the fact that there are so few members here, but it is the quality of the debate that counts. Stuart C. McDonald and I may be regarded as usual suspects at debates such as this, but the Minister and shadow Minister have to be here.

The hon. Member for Monmouth was missed on the Home Affairs Committee when I was chairing it. He went on to chair his own Committee with great distinction. I hope he will continue to do that in the next Parliament. He has raised an important subject. I fully support the concept behind the European arrest warrant. It was right that the previous Labour Government signed up to it. It was a mechanism by which those who had been responsible for criminal offences in one country could almost immediately be transported without question to another country, so the concept and the principle are right. The hon. Member for Monmouth gave examples of the Costa del Crime, as it was sometimes referred to in Spain, where people ran away to hide from the authorities in this country.

However, what I have seen in the operation of the European arrest warrant is that the current capacity of the warrant still causes concern, because in certain cases—the hon Gentleman has talked about some; I will refer to others—it tramples on the rights of individuals. I accept the important principle of the European arrest warrant, which is an integral part of our involvement in the European Union, which, as we know, will come to an end by 19 March 2019, if not sooner. It is a part of our being involved in the justice and home affairs agenda of the European Union.

The Minister has a task when he returns. I hope he will again return to the same post after the next election, because he has done the job extremely well in the time that he has been the Minister for Policing, although we still do not have a police funding formula, but we will leave that to another debate. The measures are complicated and they need to be dealt with carefully. We need the arrest warrant to be a critical part of our negotiations with the EU.

I am surprised that hon. Member for Monmouth, who is one of Parliament’s leading Brexiteers, did not put the issue at the forefront of his speech, because, if we come out of the European Union, as we will—the people have voted for us to come out—we will also have to come out of the European arrest warrant, unless a great deal is done by the Minister or the Home Secretary to ensure we remain a part of it. That is why this debate is so important. It sets a strategy as to what we expect Ministers to do. If they come to an arrangement whereby we remain part of the EAW—I do not know how they will do that under the current arrangements—and if we do a deal that gives us a benefits of the EAW, the problems with it, as eloquently set out by the hon. Gentleman, need to be addressed.

Of course there are benefits from the European arrest warrant. It enables us to track down criminals. In London, 28% of those arrested are foreign nationals, half of whom are EU nationals. We therefore commend the success of the European arrest warrant so far. When the shadow Minister for Policing comes to speak in this debate—I have heard her speak on this subject in the Chamber, and she made one of the best speeches that I have seen her give—I am sure she will tell us of all the successes, as will the Minister. However, the problem is that it is a disproportionate measure at the moment. The United Kingdom receives disproportionately more warrants than it issues. Not only does that undermine the credibility of the system, but it is extremely costly to the taxpayer.

In 2015—the Minister might have more accurate or up-to-date figures—the United Kingdom issued 228 requests for arrest to other EU member states. In that same year, 12,613 requests were sent by EU member states to the United Kingdom. Between 2009 and 2016, 55,838 requests were sent to the United Kingdom; 10,532 arrests were made in the United Kingdom; and 7,436 surrenders were made here. However, in that period 2009 to 2016, the United Kingdom sent only 1,424 requests; 916 arrests were made on our behalf; and only 800 surrenders were made to us. That therefore points to the disproportionate nature of the way in which the European arrest warrant has operated. That is why this is such a good opportunity for the Government to be able to negotiate a better deal with the European Union. I hope this will be very much a part of what is going to happen when we look at the justice and home affairs agenda.

The hon. Member for Monmouth gave us examples of individuals and miscarriages of justice. Deborah Dark, a British woman, was pursued across Europe because of an EAW issued by France, although she had been cleared of drug charges years previously. Other cases include that of Michael Turner and Jason McGoldrick, who were extradited under a European arrest warrant in 2009. These men were ably supported by Richard Drax after being imprisoned in Hungary without trial in a process that continued for eight years.

There are other examples, but my point is that, if we have reached a situation in which the warrant is used against citizens conducting their lawful business because of mistakes in other countries, that really affects them. It is no good the other country’s apologising at the end and saying “I am sorry; we got the wrong person,” or “We should never have arrested this individual.” The fact is that that damage remains with the individuals for years to come. Edmond Arapi, an Albanian chef, was arrested while arriving at Gatwick airport in June 2009. An EAW had been issued after he was tried and convicted in his absence by a court in Genoa for carrying out a murder in Italy. He was to face a sentence of 16 years in prison. He possessed documentary evidence to prove his innocence but he was held in Wandsworth prison for two weeks before being granted bail. He was subjected to 12 court appearances before the Italian court admitted that it had sought the arrest of the wrong person, following a brief check of Mr Arapi’s fingerprints. That is a classic example of where the EAW has gone wrong.