HC Deb 26 July 1965 vol 717 cc180-91

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

10.58 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Department (Miss Alice Bacon)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has a simple but very necessary purpose. It will clarify the arrangements by which we in this country return criminals or suspected criminals to the Republic of Ireland on application of the Irish authorities and, at the same time, it provides certain safeguards for the accused persons. Some of these safeguards are here introduced for the first time.

The Bill also provides for the return of offenders from Northern Ireland to the Republic, for which there have been no effective arrangements during the last 35 years. The House will know that for many years we had been returning accused persons to Ireland and the Irish authorities had been returning people to this country under powers which have since been declared unlawful. In this country we were able to meet this disturbing situation by a stop-gap Order in Council, but because the Irish did not have a corresponding power it has been impossible for some time for us to obtain the return of wanted persons from Ireland.

Hon. Members will be glad to know that in Ireland a similar reciprocal Measure—the Irish Extradition Act—has now been signed by the President of the Irish Republic and will come into operation on 16th August. From that date is will no longer be possible for British criminals to go to Ireland safe in the knowledge that they cannot be returned.

The Measure we are considering will operate in such a way that where a warrant for the arrest of a person accused or convicted of an offence in the Republic is sent to this country for execution, it will not be endorsed unless, in the case of a summary offence, a summons has been issued first. Nor will a court order a person's return if it appears that the offence is one that is excluded by other provisions of this Bill—that is, political, military or fiscal offences.

Moreover, an order for return, if made, will not be executed for 15 days, except with the consent of the person affected, in order that he may have an adequate opportunity to apply, if he wishes, for a writ of habeas corpus or, in Scotland, to make an application for review by the High Court of Justiciary. Similar safeguards as regards return to this country from the Republic have been included by the Irish authorities in their own Bill.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) asked on Second Reading and in Committee whether the various safeguards I have mentioned and which are now being introduced for the first time were adequate; whether, for instance, it should be a requirement that prima facie evidence should be furnished on every occasion when a person's return was sought, or that there should be power for the courts not to return a person where, because of the triviality of the offence, it would be oppressive to send him back.

We are quite firmly of the view that we have gone as far as is necessary or practicable to go. We are here dealing with neighbouring countries between which there is a large and constant flow of persons without immigration controls; countries, moreover, whose systems of law and judicial procedure have a common basis, and are still very closely aligned. It is, in our view, unnecessary that what would be, in effect, committal proceedings should be held in this coun- try and again in Ireland. My hon. and learned Friend need not fear that those accused of trivial offences will be sent back, for summary offences carrying less than six months' imprisonment are now in any case being excluded, as they have not been in the past. Important safeguards have now also been introduced into the procedure.

On this basis, I confidently commend the Bill to the House. When the corresponding Irish legislation comes into operation next month, we shall again be able to secure the return of offenders from the Republic, which has not been possible since the ruling of the Irish Supreme Court last year. The main provisions of our own Bill, when it has been placed on the Statute Book, will be brought into effect a little later by an Order made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

This will be done as soon as the necessary magistrates' courts rules have been made, and the various exceptions, adaptations and modifications in procedure which will be required in the application of the Act to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have been worked out. Meanwhile, the Irish will be able to continue to secure the return of offenders from here under the old arrangements with us, but there is every expectation that if the House agrees to this Measure, as I urge that it should, the new procedure should be fully working in both countries by the autumn.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Buck (Colchester)

This is a Bill which, basically, the Opposition are inclined to welcome, but we should like some further reassurances from the Government about certain of its aspects. As was outlined by the hon. Lady the Minister of State, Home Office, after the decision last year in the case of The Queen v. The Commissioner of Police, ex parte Hammond Hard, Ireland became a place where our criminals could resort with impunity—as they can today. We should like further assurances about when this Measure will be brought into operation.

The hon. Lady has said that in accordance with the provisions of Clause 13, after the various steps to implement the changes necessary in the magistrates' courts rules and so forth have been brought forward, it will come into effect. How long will it take? The autumn is much too long to wait. Ireland has been for far too long a place where our fugitives could go with impunity. What is the position today? If a train robber is detected in Ireland he cannot be brought back here; he can get on to an aeroplane and go to Guatemala, without the possibility of being brought back here.

Miss Bacon

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. It depends on when the Irish Bill is brought into operation. The Irish Bill will come into operation on 16th August.

Mr. Buck

That is quite definite, is it? It is not tied to any date on which our provisions come into force?

Miss Bacon


Mr. Buck

So there is no reciprocity. At an earlier stage there were indications that there might be reciprocity in bringing this provision into effect. That is some assurance to us.

Nonetheless, it is important to know just when the whole position of fugitives who come here from Ireland will be tidied up. We would like to know when the provisions of the Bill are likely to be brought into effect. It may be thought that there has been a saga of considerable delay. The Queen v. The Commissioner of Police: ex parte Hammond, which is basic to the consideration of the Bill, was considered judicially in the House of Lords in June, 1964. Thereafter, the Government of the day acted with great expedition to preserve the position of people coming from Ireland to this country, and brought forward the Republic of Ireland (Consequential Adaptation of Enactment) Order, 1964, which made it possible for us to return fugitives to Ireland. As we have heard, for technical reasons the Irish could not do the same for us, which was a pity. But the Conservative Government took immediate steps to draft legislation and enter into negotiation with the Irish Government, and it is surprising that, with the Government inheriting a Bill almost in draft form, it has taken such a long time to bring it before the House today for Third Reading.

All along the line, there has been delay. It was brought before the House of Lords, where it was introduced as long ago as 21st January of this year. It came before this House on Second Reading in February. Why was there the tremendous delay between then and the Committee stage in June, and why, now, has it taken more than a month to come on for Third Reading? Is it because there have been difficulties in the negotiations with the Republic of Ireland? If there have been difficulties, let us hear about them. After all, we are a neighbour country and a friendly country. Our relationship can stand the revelation of difficulties in negotiations, if there have been any. If there have not been difficulties, let the Front Bench opposite say so, because we on this side have the impression that there have not been.

If there have been no difficulties, the long delay in bringing the legislation forward must be because it has been squeezed out of the legislative programme by socialist measures such as the Finance Bill. We would like further assurances on the timing of the whole matter from the Front Bench opposite.

Further than that, we on this side are inclined to welcome the Bill. After all, it was largely our side which drafted it and therefore it is hardly surprising that we should basically welcome it. But we should like assurances about its whole timetable.

We have given careful consideration to the questions of safeguards which were raised in Committee. We on this side take the view that, considering the juxtaposition of the two countries, the procedure envisaged in the Bill gives proper protection, bearing in mind the close similarity that there is between the judicial processes in the Republic of Ireland and in this country. On that score, Her Majesty's Opposition are satisfied with the provisions of the Bill. We are not satisfied, however, with the laggardly way in which this whole matter has been dealt with by the Government, and we should like an explanation of why there has been such a vast delay with the Bill, and why it has been such an unconscionable time coming to Third Reading.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

This Bill was prepared by the late Government and adopted by the present Government. It was prepared, apparently, by the late Government because of a judgment in the House of Lords in the Hammond case which has been referred to. I think it is extremely important that the House should appreciate what happened in the case of Hammond. Hammond was a man who was arrested on a warrant charging him with wilful neglect of his two children in Ireland in such a manner as to be likely to cause them unnecessary suffering and injury to their health. He was arrested and the warrant was issued which was required to be backed. He swore an affidavit in which he said that, far from his neglecting his children, his wife had left them and returned to Ireland, and he disputed the paternity of one of the children and he said that he intended to bring divorce proceedings. He had made an attempt to try to effect a reconciliation with his wife, and sent money on a number of occasions no replies had been received and no complaint of any kind. He was entirely unaware of the proceedings.

The point made was that there was no opportunity for him to put his case before the magistrate when application was made for the backing of the warrant and the magistrate had no right whatever to interfere in the matter, and all he had to do was to back the warrant and to send the man back.

The appeal in Hammond's case succeeded upon a technical point, the fact that the office of Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary had been abolished. It is important to see what Lord Reid said in his judgment. He said: It is a serious matter if in a case of this kind a person can be sent under arrest out of Her Majesty's dominions without any warning or opportunity of preparing or stating his case or applying for bail or of representing the hardship which was involved for him. In view of that judgment this Bill was introduced, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said that safeguards have been provided. True enough, safeguards have been provided. Safeguards have been provided, for example, in the case of offences specified in the warrant of a political character or an offence under military law, or an offence under an enactment relating to taxes, duties or exchange control, and also where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person named or described in the warrant will be prosecuted or detained for another offence. Safeguards have been put forward, quite rightly, in that way.

I appreciate the fact that safeguards have been put there, but if one looks at Clause 1(1)—and on Third Reading one may refer only to what is in the Bill—one sees that where (a) a warrant has been issued by a judicial authority in the Republic of Ireland … for the arrest of a person accused or convicted of an offence against the laws of the Republic, being an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction with imprisonment for six months; and (b) an application for the endorsement of the warrant is made to a justice of the peace in the United Kingdom by a constable who produces the warrant and states on oath that he has reason to believe the person named or described therein to be within the area for which the justice acts"— the justice endorses the warrant.

It is perfectly true that cases which do not come within Clause 1(1,a) of the Bill will not apply, but the Bill does apply to indictable offence or offences punishable on summary conviction with imprisonment for six months. That means that where there is an offence which is indictable, or an offence punishable on summary conviction with imprisonment for six months, the same old procedure applies, with the exceptions I have mentioned, political offences or offences relating to taxes and so on.

Under this proposed enactment, this will be the position. There are many offences, including, for example, larceny, receiving, unlawful wounding, dangerous driving, motoring offences and even common assault which can be dealt with on indictment. Therefore, for these offences the position remains the same as it was before. We have the serious position that in cases of that kind all that happens is that a warrant is issued by the judicial authority of the Republic of Ireland and application is made for endorsement of the warrant and the magistrate must back the warrant and send the man back.

In other words, if the Hammond case were one of these offences he would have no right to present any defence and there would be no burden on the prosecution to present a prima facie. case. Under the Extradition Act and the Fugitive Offenders Act in the cases of offences overseas a person has the right when an application is made to the magistrates to demand that a prima facie case should be shown. If not, he has the right to ask the divisional court for a writ of habeas corpus.

Here we have a proposed enactment which prescribes that in these cases a man may be sent back to Ireland. A prima facie case may be shown and the man has no chance of presenting any defence whatsoever. Let hon. Members imagine a man who is arrested for a motoring offence alleged to have been committed in Northern Ireland. It is an indictable offence. The man may not be the person concerned. He might be able to put forward some defence and the prosecution might not be able to put forward a prima facie case but he is sent back and tried in Ireland. This is what the Bill provides, and I say with the greatest respect that there is no reason why the provisions in the Bill should not be on the lines of those in the Fugitive Offenders and Extradition Acts.

There is no reason why Ireland should be differentiated in any way. It is all very well to say that Ireland is near and that people might escape there. I value much more the right of an individual to liberty and to demand that a case be shown against him and an opportunity be given to him to defend himself much more than any question of whether criminals go to Ireland. I listened with surprise to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck). I raised this matter on Second Reading and in Committee, and I put on record again my objection to this Measure.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) has made a strong case. Whilst I sympathise with the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) about the delaying of an important Bill, at the same time I feel that the liberty of the subject is something for which all of us must have special care. If the Bill goes through without our taking care to ensure that there is no infringement of the liberty of the individual, whether he be Irishman or Englishman, we shall have done less than our duty and we shall not have upheld the best traditions for which our country is justly famed throughout the free world.

The very essence of our freedom, the essence of the things for which we have stood and fought for so long, is touched by a Measure of this sort. If we transgress, if, through carelessness or even through haste, we allow the Bill to pass without making certain that every possible precaution has been taken to prevent a miscarriage of justice which might result in someone, for a comparatively minor offence, being returned to Eire without his having an opportunity to state his case before a British court, this will be something which none of us ought to accept with equanimity. I hope, therefore, that the Solicitor-General will deal with this point carefully and will be able to assure the House that our fears are groundless.

11.21 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

It appeared to me that both the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) were in similar error about the genesis of the Bill. They both said that we had inherited it from the previous Administration and that it had been drafted by them. Let us have the position clear. It is true that the previous Government authorised the preparation of legislation on this subject, but the Bill itself, as now before the House, was drafted by the present Government.

Mr. Weitzman

What a pity.

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Member for Colchester complained about delay. We are responsible only for what happens in this country. The return of wanted persons from this country to the Irish Republic is covered by the existing interim arrangements, so that, in practice, the Bill makes very little difference in that respect. But, obviously, it was desirable, when we were introducing permanent legislation, to ensure that, so far as possible, it coincided with similar legislation on the other side of the Irish Channel. That is what is happening. My hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Home Office told the House that the Irish legislation is to become law on 16th August, and we are arranging to bring this Bill into effect very soon afterwards, so that, so far as it can be arranged, there is coincidence between the legislation on the two sides.

Mr. Buck

If we had acted expeditiously in preparing this legislation, we should have been in a much stronger position, through the usual channels across the Irish Channel, to make representations and to influence the situation in the Dail so that the Irish Government brought their legislation forward much earlier than they did.

The Solicitor-General

There is no basis for that at all. The Irish Government have their own legislative processes, and there is nothing to show that their legislation could have been passed any more quickly if we had expedited this Bill earlier in the Session.

The only other matter was raised by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell). My hon. and learned Friend is nothing if not persistent. It is an admirable quality, of course, but he will forgive my saying that we have already listened twice to the speech he gave tonight, once on Second Reading and once in Committee. It was an admirable speech on each occasion, but I am bound to give the same reply. First, I remind the hon. Member for Bodmin that the Bill contains safeguards regarding fugitives being returned to Ireland which have never existed before, the safeguards regarding political offences, military offences and fiscal offences.

Mr. Weitzman

Will my hon. and learned Friend—

The Solicitor-General

Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will let me finish my answer to the hon. Member for Bodmin. There is the safeguard, which has never existed before, that the fugitive must be brought before the court and that there must be a 15 days' delay before he can be sent hack. All that is perfectly new. All that is a step in favour of the liberty of the subject.

Now we come to the issue between my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, and myself, which we have already argued out twice; that is, whether the return of fugitives to Ireland should be governed by precisely the same law as the return of fugitives to foreign countries under the extradition Acts or to Commonwealth countries under the Fugitive Offenders Act, 1881. Having regard to the geography and the fact that a very large number of persons have to be returned from this country to Ireland and from Ireland to this country each year—it is about 100 a year each way—we say that different considerations apply. Where one has, as between this country and Ireland, no immigration controls whatever, the position is quite different from that where one is returning somebody to a country which is halfway across the world. That is why we say that it would be quite inappropriate to try to apply to the return of fugitives to Ireland the same kind of arrangements that we quite rightly have when we are dealing with the return of fugitives to foreign countries or to distant Commonwealth countries.

I do not want to cover again the ground that in reply to my hon. and learned Friend I have already tried twice to traverse. Therefore, I invite the House to pass the Bill.

Mr. Weitzman

Will my hon. and learned Friend agree that safeguards do not exist in regard to the offence which I mentioned and that the position remains exactly as it was in the Hammond case?

The Solicitor-General

We have had an assurance from the Irish Government that a return will not be sought in such cases as the Hammond case. The distinction simply is that—I agree with my hon. and learned Friend—in the sort of case to which he has referred it is not necessary that a prima facie case should be established before the magistrate before the fugitive can be returned, and in that respect there is less protection than under the Fugitive Offenders Act. On the other hand, there are certain forms of protection here, particularly in regard to political, fiscal and military offences, which do not exist under the Fugitive Offenders Act, so that in some respects the fugitive who is sought to be returned to Ireland is in a stronger position than one who is sought to be returned to a Commonwealth country. I say again that one cannot really equate the two positions. One is dealing with an entirely different situation when one is dealing with the return of a fugitive to Ireland. Therefore, we suggest that different arrangements are wholly justified.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without Amendment.