§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:
What decisions have been taken concerning the European arrest warrant and what further consultations will take place.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker)
My Lords, the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels on 6th December did not reach political agreement on the framework decision on the European arrest warrant. It will be considered again by the heads of state at the meeting of the European Council at Laeken at the end of this week.
§ Lord Lamont of Lerwick
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that some of us were astonished to read the Home Secretary's protestations of outrage to his Greek opposite number, Mr George Papandreou, about the continued detention of 12 British plane spotters? Will the Minister confirm his written reply that those 12 people, if accused of espionage by the Greeks, would have been extraditable to Greece without substantive court proceedings? If the Home Secretary is serious in the expressions that he has made about the suffering of 1236 these people in a Greek prison, is this really the time to continue to back a proposal that would allow people to be extradited without the elementary requirement of justice—the presentation of prima facie evidence against them in a court?
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, the European arrest warrant system will work only after charges are laid. People cannot be extradited for the pursuit of inquiries. Therefore, it is not as though one is jumping the gun. Some 32 serious offences are now on the list, including trafficking in human beings, arson, rape and a whole host of other crimes. If charges are made against people in relation to those offences, then the extradition process will follow. But it should not necessarily follow that the process will be dragged out over years and years.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the people arrested is the wife of one of the plane spotters, who said that she is not in the least interested in plane spotting and went along only to keep her husband company?
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, noble Lords are asking me to comment on a case on which the judges have delayed until tomorrow their final decision. I have nothing to say about the case of the plane spotters in Greece. That would be inappropriate, even though I might want to make a few choice remarks about the tourist industry between our two countries.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, given that, like all dictatorial regimes, the European Union is legislating in secret on this matter, are the Government aware of a leak by the Greek Justice Minister published in a Greek Sunday newspaper known as "Free Press" to the effect that the warrant, even in its present form, would allow British subjects to be extradited from this country for a crime which carries a prison sentence of one to three years in the issuing country, even if that is not a crime in this country? In those circumstances, can the Government give the House an undertaking that they will respect their promise to Parliament and will not agree this measure in Laeken or anywhere else until the scrutiny reserve has been lifted by your Lordships' Select Committee?
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, it is right that scrutiny must be carried out. I understand that tomorrow the Minister concerned, Bob Ainsworth, will appear before your Lordships' scrutiny committee as he did before the Commons yesterday. Let us not assume, as some noble Lords do, aided and abetted by "The Forgers' Gazette"—the media in this country—that this issue is current legislation; it is not. It will be subject to primary legislation in an extradition Bill. That will not be rushed through or done behind closed doors. It will be done on the Floor of this House and in the other place.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, does the Minister accept that those of us who recognise that 1237 serious crime in this country is often aided by the ability to escape to other EU countries and fight extradition for prolonged periods nevertheless have some questions about the European arrest warrant in terms of dual criminality? We should very much like the British Government to be tougher on that issue than they appear to have been so far.
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, the issue of dual criminality is sensitive as regards matters which are not crimes in this country but are crimes elsewhere. Different countries have different processes. Some areas of dual criminality have not been finalised. I refer, for example, to the issues of euthanasia and abortion. I know nothing about the legislative process in other countries, but both those issues are free vote issues in this Parliament. While all laws are equal, issues passed on free votes must carry a greater force. No decisions have been taken. But all these matters will be debated in terms of the law of this country in primary legislation in a Bill to be brought before Parliament relating to extradition in the early part of next year.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, it sounds as though the extradition Bill will be a large new Bill. When it comes before this House and the other place, will we in practice have any opportunity to alter it or will it all have been sewn up in prerogative treaty form so that there is not much room for amendment? For instance, will we be able to amend the crimes listed for this process? Will there be any freedom at all or is this just a rubber stamp on a matter which will be agreed in the Council of Ministers and which we shall have little opportunity to alter?
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, I freely admit that there will be an international treaty obligation. The list of crimes referred to currently stands at 32. That has changed in the past few days. I do not know whether that will be the final list, nor how big the extradition Bill will be. However, no one can claim that it will come as a surprise. It will be the result of a consultation document published this year. There has been a review of extradition law over a period of time following recent high profile cases. It is no surprise that there will be an extradition Bill. However, it is a fact that, as regards the European arrest warrant, an extradition Bill is a better vehicle for legislating for it. I do not know how flexible the legislation will be. However, the primary legislation will be debated and, I presume, amended at each stage of the process in both Houses before a final Act of Parliament is passed.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend the Minister has cleared up the matter. If an agreement is reached at Laeken and the matter is brought before Parliament for primary legislation, will it be possible for that agreement, whether or not it is a treaty, to be altered by Parliament—by the House of Commons or the House of Lords or by both acting together? That is what we want to know. If such primary legislation goes through the House of Commons on a guillotine Motion, so 1238 leaving little time for individual clauses to be debated, will this House be able to debate it properly and not be insulted when it makes reasonable amendments to what might not be a satisfactory Bill?
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, in answer to the second part of my noble friend's question, I do not know in which House the Bill will be first introduced. Therefore, I shall not speculate about how each House will deal with the matter. As regards the first part of his question, I cannot add to what I have said. I do riot know what will be the nature of the Bill. Work is being conducted at present. An agreement on the European arrest warrant has not yet been reached at a political level in Europe. Until it is, we are speculating in hypothetical circumstances.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, would the Minister be prepared to consider supporting the Eurobail system, which would enable people charged in one country of the Union to be released on bail to return to their home countries pending the hearing of a case? Would not that have enabled the plane spotters in Greece to be released on bail pending a decision taken by the Greek courts on whether they were to be proceeded against?
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, it might have done. However, if charges are to be made by another country with which we have an extradition treaty, there is a due process. The idea of the European arrest warrant is to speed up the process so that we do not have months and years of delay during which time alleged criminals seek to avoid justice. There is nothing new intrinsically. Extradition laws are old, almost 19th century legislation. We are trying to modernise them so that people cannot play off one country against another depending on where the crimes are committed.