It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and to follow such distinguished and learned speakers. I add my congratulations to David T. C. Davies on securing the debate. It is no secret that my concerns about the way the European arrest warrant works probably come from a different starting place from his, but I was very interested in what he had to say. He raised really important issues about the human rights of UK citizens extradited to other countries. Those issues deserve to be debated and taken very seriously. I will address some of the human rights issues in my remarks. I must admit that I have no knowledge of the cases that the hon. Gentleman raised today. I look forward to learning more about them.
Labour’s starting point is that the UK’s membership of the European arrest warrant system is an invaluable and effective tool for the British courts to catch fugitives, both in the interests of our country’s security and to provide justice for those of our constituents who have had the misfortune to be the victims of crime committed by those who can catch an easyJet flight and disappear. I know that the hon. Gentleman who instigated the debate would not forget that this mechanism—this warrant—enabled Hussain Osman to be brought to justice after he fled to Italy following the failed suicide bombing in London in July 2005. The most recent Home Office data show that the UK has used the mechanism of the European arrest warrant to bring some 2,500 individuals from outside the UK to face justice since the system was introduced in 2004.
I believe that the principle of the arrest warrant is right and that we should look to iron out any difficulties that exist. As Stuart C. McDonald, who speaks for the Scottish National party, said, we should work from within the system—that is the better way to do it—rather than starting again from the beginning.
However, the most urgent issue for us to discuss right now is whether it is possible for us to maintain membership of this very valuable system when we leave the EU. One of Labour’s key tests for the Brexit deal is whether it protects national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime. We know that as recently as a year ago the Prime Minister herself considered it necessary to remain in the European Union to retain membership of the European arrest warrant system, because she said as much. That was one reason why she concluded that
“remaining a member of the European Union means we will be more secure from crime and terrorism.”
The Prime Minister has been facing the challenge of proving herself wrong and ensuring that this country remains as secure as it is today. Perhaps the Minister can update us on that. I hope to see him back here in the coming months, but I look for promotion for him, because I think that he has done a sterling job in this role and the one before, so I am not necessarily hoping, as my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz is, to see him back in this role, although he does do it particularly well. Perhaps the Minister can update us on the progress that the Prime Minister is making, in terms of ensuring that this country remains as secure as it is today, with the negotiations about our remaining in the European arrest warrant system.
As far as I can see, the Conservative party’s real problem is that even if it were theoretically possible to negotiate continued membership of the European arrest warrant system from outside the EU—I think we all agree that that would be a tall order—that would mean accepting in principle the right of the European Court of Justice to arbitrate in cases of disagreement, and the Conservatives have made it clear that they seek to be outside the purview of the ECJ in all matters. Does the Minister agree with Labour that it is in the interests of our country’s national security to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the event of disagreement over the European arrest warrant? Can he give a specific answer to whether it is possible to have associate membership of the EAW system without being subject to ECJ arbitration? Perhaps he agrees with Mike Kennedy, a former chief operating officer of the Crown Prosecution Service and a former president of Eurojust, who said recently in evidence to the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the European Union in the other place:
“Any sort of alternative to the court is going to be quite difficult to negotiate and agree. I just do not know how long that would take, but I suspect it would take longer than is available.”
We know from experience that negotiating third-country access to the European arrest warrant is notoriously difficult. Norway and Iceland spent 15 years attempting that, and both countries are in Schengen and the European Economic Area, but I understand that there are no plans for us to be members of either. Moreover, their surrender agreements are weaker in two ways. First, they require the alleged offences to be the same in both countries, thus losing the flexibility that comes from member states agreeing to respect the decision of one another’s criminal justice systems. Secondly, they allow countries to refuse to surrender their own nationals, making it tricky, for example, if a national of another EU country commits an offence on UK soil and then jumps on the same easyJet flight back home.
In contrast, the strength of the European arrest warrant is not only that it allows suspects to be returned to the UK, even if the crime they are suspected of committing has a different legal basis from the law applying in the country they fled to, but it has strict timescales that are effectively enforced, so that fugitives are returned to face justice speedily. Those two factors make the European arrest warrant far more powerful than any other extradition procedure anywhere in the world.
I heard the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East and the hon. Member for Monmouth, and I am always up for better protection for human rights.