HC Deb 20 November 2001 vol 375 cc195-7 4.38 pm
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law on extradition. It is interesting that two of the points of order that have just been raised concerned terrorism. There is a well-known alleged link between Chechnyan so-called freedom fighters and al-Qaeda. One example that I intend to use concerns three people whose extradition from this country is being sought and who are members, or alleged members, of al-Qaeda.

On 7 August 1998, terrorists blew up the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; 224 people were killed and more than 4,500 injured. The United States sought the extradition of Khalid al Fawwaz in September 1998 and Abdel Abdelbary and Ibrahim Eiderous in July 1999 in connection with the bombings. All three are still in custody in the United Kingdom, fighting extradition on legal aid paid for by our taxpayers. All are alleged to be part of Osama bin Laden's organisations. Their cases have only just been heard in the House of Lords, more than two years later.

However, that is not the worst case. In November 1995, some three years earlier, Rachid Ramda was arrested at the request of France in connection with terrorist bombings in Paris that summer. The bombings, which took place on the metro and elsewhere, killed 26 people and injured more than 200. The House of Lords took until 1998 to decide that Ramda should be extradited, but it has taken the Home Secretary until October this year—no doubt, the process was speeded by the events of 11 September—to order his extradition, six years later. That decision of the Home Secretary is, of course, subject to judicial review, and the decision of that review is subject to appeal.

At the present rate, it appears that it will be another couple of years before Mr. Ramda has to face a French court. He has succeeded in gaining that delay by alleging—preposterously—that the French judicial system is inherently racist and that he cannot get a fair trial in France. There has been uproar in the French press. Allegations of hypocrisy have been made against the Prime Minister about being at the forefront of the fight against international terrorism while allowing such an extradition system to persist. My Bill would allow him a way out of his dilemma and I hope that the Government will see the sense of it.

Those cases have all been fought on legal aid. In answer to a parliamentary question, we have been told that that has so far cost more than £450,000. We do not know what the Government's legal costs are, and I have been unable to find out. The suspects have all been in prison at a cost of about £30,000 a year each, so it seems that the total prison costs are more than £400,000.

If we are serious about fighting terrorism—I believe that the Government are absolutely right to take the matter so seriously—we cannot allow this situation to continue. Before 11 September, five other suspects were fighting extradition requests from France, Italy, Spain and the United States, which issued two of them. Of course, they had not been held for as long as the suspects whom I have mentioned. More suspects are now being sought by the United States in connection with the events of 11 September. It is unlikely that any will be extradited for some time.

I raised these matters with the Prime Minister in September. He blamed the complexity of extradition law. To some extent, that explanation is correct, but it is not the whole story. The courts proceed at a snail's pace. Frankly, the process is scandalously slow. The Home Office has been responsible for a considerable amount of the delay in Mr. Ramda's case, which took two years from the first hearing in June 1996 until the House of Lords appeal was heard in 1998. That is leisurely even by the courts' standards. The Fawwaz case took more than three years to get to the House of Lords.

I suggest that the courts not only can but should do much better in cases of national importance. The Pinochet case was dealt with in 15 months. That included three appeals to the House of Lords. Hon. Members may remember what a mess was made of the first one. The first appeal to the House of Lords was made two months after Pinochet's arrest. It appears that our courts—especially the senior ones—simply do not understand the vital national interest that is at stake, but surely there can be no excuses after 11 September.

The courts are not the only problem. In the Ramda case, it took the Home Secretary more than two years after the House of Lords decision to order deportation. He did so after 11 September. The law gives him two months in which to make that decision, but the Home Office took more than two years. I suggest that the Home Office has even fewer excuses than the House of Lords. In future, it simply must act very much faster.

The Government recognised the problems in our extradition system some time ago. In March, they published a consultation paper that covered many of the difficulties. The last day for the submission of responses was 8 June, which is almost six months ago, but they still have not made firm proposals. On 3 October, the Home Secretary was reported in The Times as saying that he could not wait for a new extradition Act to deal with terrorist cases. Of course, after 11 September, the United States would want to interview more suspects. However, he has waited a considerable time longer than one would have thought necessary.

The consequences of the delays are incalculable. We will never know whether faster extradition of the three bin Laden suspects to the United States could have provided some intelligence or information before the 11 September attacks that might have helped its security services to foil them or at least take some measures against them.

One argument used in many such cases is that we cannot extradite people to countries where the death penalty might be imposed. I would not want to extradite someone to face execution. However, the courts have decided that that is not a matter for them but for the Home Secretary when he considers whether to order extradition after the court processes are over. There are examples of people who have been extradited to the United States on condition that it undertakes not to apply the death penalty. That seems a reasonable compromise.

The consultation paper considers in detail the proposal for a European arrest warrant, which is being discussed under the home affairs pillar of the European Union. That proposes the automatic enforcement in one country of warrants that another country has issued. I find that an unacceptable solution. When it comes before the House, I hope that I shall have an opportunity to explain my reasons.

There are long delays in many countries. Perhaps hon. Members have constituents who have been in jail, in, for example, Spain for more than a year before their cases come to trial. The judicial systems of some applicant countries are perhaps not as fair and timely as ours and those of France and Germany.

The general law reform that the consultation paper proposes will take a long time. The problem of terrorist suspects cannot wait until then. France and the United States, which are currently affected, are among our closest allies. We must help each other more constructively to fight terrorism; that means faster extradition. The law should be changed immediately to allow the Home Secretary to designate countries that are allies in the fight against terrorism and whose judicial systems we respect. Extradition requests from those countries would be tackled on a new, fast-track basis with limited exceptions and rights of appeal. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which we discussed yesterday, provides for that in the case of deportation.

Suspects who are in the United Kingdom illegally should be deported immediately. It is interesting to note that the Home Secretary deported Kamel Daoudi back to France a few weeks ago almost before his feet had touched the ground. The right hon. Gentleman seems willing to act when the law allows him to do that. He needs to change the law quickly to allow him to act in the circumstances that I outlined.

International terrorism is one of the greatest threats to our security and that of our allies. It is right that the Government are prepared to use military force and introduce new security measures to fight that threat. However, we must also be prepared to co-operate better with our allies on extraditing suspects. The United Kingdom has acquired an unfortunate reputation in some countries for being a haven for terrorists. That is understandable, but it must not be allowed to continue.

We must convey a message to our courts that lengthy delays are intolerable, to the Home Office that it cannot take two years to deal with cases that have been through the courts, and to the Government that new legislation cannot await a general reform of extradition law.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Maples, Sir George Young, Mr. Stephen Dorrell, Mr. Francis Maude, Richard Ottaway and Mr. Andrew Tyrie.