HC Deb 10 May 1990 vol 172 cc386-7
8. Mr. Corbett

To ask the Secretary of State For Northern Ireland what proposals he is considering on extradition.

Mr. Cope

At the last meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, Ministers had a constructive discussion of arrangements for dealing with fugitive offenders. Officials were instructed to undertake a review of the situation and to report back to a future conference. My right hon. Friend will consider all proposals arising from this review.

Mr. Corbett

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he share the confidence of the Irish Government that the 1987 extradition Act will remedy the defects of the last three cases which were before the Irish Supreme Court?

Mr. Cope

The last three cases were, of course, disappointing, but we have to accept that they were the judgments of an independent judiciary on the basis of the then law. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, the law has since been changed. The whole point of the study to which I referred is to consider whether the arrangements are now satisfactory for the future.

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the arrangements regarding the extradition of ordinary decent criminals—[Interruption]—are working perfectly satisfactorily? However, where the person sought to be extradited is an alleged IRA criminal, the law, the courts and the Government of the Irish Republic put every obstacle in the way.

Mr. Cope

I would not entirely agree with the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary. The phrase "ordinary decent criminals" is well understood in Northern Ireland and is in frequent use—I have become used to it myself —but it obviously came as a novelty to some hon. Members. The position in relation to terrorists has improved since 1985. That does not mean, of course, that the position is now perfect. That is why we are carrying out the study.

Mr. William Ross

Surely the right hon. Gentleman understands perfectly well that after the McGimpsey case, which clarified the position in the Irish Republic, it was a foregone conclusion that any extradition requests brought under the 1965 Irish Act on extradition were bound to fail. Does he recall that when the 1987 Act was being passed in the Irish Republic the Prime Minister said that it would make matters worse than under the 1965 Act? In the light of that, what possible confidence can the right hon. Gentleman or any hon. Member have that we will get any IRA murderer extradited from the Irish Republic to face justice in this kingdom?

Mr. Cope

I do not think that there is a sound legal basis for the hon. Gentleman's assertion about the effects of the McGimpsey case judgment on extradition. In view of the legal advice that I have received, I cannot support his assertion. In terms of his general question, I can tell him that of course there have been three refusals of extradition for terrorists to which I have recently referred, but that compares with 38 refusals in the years preceding 1985 and, obviously, preceding the new legislation. Four terrorists have been returned to Northern Ireland since 1985, compared with only three in the preceding 15 years, so the position has improved. Of course we are not entirely satisfied—that is why we are having further discussions with the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

Rev. William McCrea

How can the Minister assure my constituents that the Irish Republic is a friendly neighbour to Northern Ireland when at this moment it is harbouring known terrorists who have killed some of my constituents? Does the Minister accept that the present extradition arrangements are the laughing stock of the world?

Mr. Cope

I do not accept that. If the hon. Gentleman has information and evidence to give to the Royal Ulster Constabulary which will assist us in catching criminals, wherever they may be on either side of the border, we shall be grateful to receive it.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Minister aware that we welcome the establishment of a committee to consider the effects of extradition? We hope that it will reach a conclusion that will be acceptable to the vast majority of people within all of our islands. Have the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State considered taking the initiative with other colleagues in the Government and looking again at the actual convention on the suppression of terrorism to try to limit the effects of political exemption and to make its scope much narrower and much more acceptable to the majority of fair-thinking people?

Mr. Cope

Yes, but the convention does not translate precisely into current legislation in many countries, not only the Irish Republic. It is a matter for agreement between the two countries involved. That is of the first importance. However, we shall pursue all those matters in the talks to which I have referred.

Mr. Hanley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no place in the European Community for any country that protects those who commit political crimes? Would not it be a good idea, during the Irish presidency, to suggest a change in a constitution which helps to protect those who commit such crimes?

Mr. Cope

I think that we are already adopting the best manner to achieve improvements between this country and the Irish Republic.