Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 20th April 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 3:27 pm, 20th April 2017

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Yes, in an independent Scotland, we would seek participation in the European arrest warrant system. As I have acknowledged, it is not perfect, and we would push for reform, but from within the system; I will come to the issue of a bar in a moment. I cannot see how we are any more likely to be able to overcome the problems by starting again and trying to negotiate either 27 bilateral agreements or a new agreement in the way that Norway and Iceland have done. The easiest way for us to keep the benefits and bring about improvement in the system is from within, by continuing our participation.

There is evidence that continuing to participate and to push for reform and take part in dialogue can realise some progress. For example, raising concerns with Poland has brought about some change, including the introduction there of an “interests of justice” test. Before, it was almost automatic that a European arrest warrant would be sought. There is awareness and, I think, acceptance in EU institutions that more must be done to ensure proportionate use of the warrant system, although debate continues about exactly what measures are needed to make that happen. Meanwhile, changes to the Extradition Act 2003 mean that courts in the UK can apply a proportionality test and refuse to execute a warrant if the test is not passed, although I acknowledge the criticisms about whether it is appropriately robust.

As regards ensuring standards of justice, it is absolutely fair to say that more must be done to ensure that people extradited to certain EU states are treated fairly and that there are proper standards in relation to pre-trial conditions and detention. Again, however, change is possible. We have heard already that the 2003 Act does now set down a human rights bar, although I accept that there is also a debate about whether that test is robust enough.

Again, there is awareness at European level that there have to be improvements. For example, in February 2014, the European Parliament resolved to support proposals to include a ground for refusing an arrest warrant

“where there are substantial grounds to believe that the execution of the measure would be incompatible with the executing Member State’s obligation in accordance with Article 6 of the TEU”— the treaty on European Union—“and the Charter”, which is the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. For its part, the European Commission has said that it would prefer to adopt legislation on minimum procedural rights standards and action on implementation of the judicial co-operation instruments such as the supervision order and European investigation order. I am not saying that more cannot be done, but it is fair to recognise that the door is open to making progress and resolving some of the issues highlighted today.

In short, we should continue to want the UK to be involved in the European arrest warrant system. We should work to find solutions from within the system rather than starting again from scratch. I say that because the alternatives would be very difficult. Negotiating 27 separate bilateral agreements would be a hugely significant task and almost certainly would not bring the same benefits, while retaining many of the same problems. A separate deal with the EU as a whole is possible, but we know from the experience of Norway and Iceland, despite their both being Schengen countries, that that can also be an incredibly long process and the resulting system could involve variations from the main system that would make it weaker than what we have as a member of the system itself.

The Government have said that they, too, see the benefits of the European arrest warrant process. However, we need to hear more about how they intend to get there. After all, the current Prime Minister warned when she was Home Secretary that Brexit likely meant no EU arrest warrant participation at all. Her fixation on excluding any involvement of the European Court of Justice seems to be the biggest barrier to continued participation in the arrest warrant system. The Government must get their priorities right and not allow that fixation to scupper the bigger goal. We need to ask these questions. What precisely are the Government seeking to secure? How will they do that? And will they let go of their fixation on the European Court of Justice if that is what is necessary to secure ongoing participation in the arrest warrant scheme?