HC Deb 13 November 2003 vol 413 cc430-3

Queen's recommendation having been signified—

1.26 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint)


Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the Extradition Bill only finished in another place at 6.19 pm last night and it is today's main business. Although the Clerks have been most helpful to me and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), as has the Minister's private office, is it possible to bring pressure on the Government so that in future business that finishes in another place the night before is not our main business the following day?

The Government could have listed the Extradition Bill for debate next week, which would have placed much less pressure on servants of the House, such as the Clerks. It would also have enabled the House of Commons Library to brief Opposition Members on what has happened. The Government made significant concessions on points made by both main Opposition parties, but those were only put on the record in another place yesterday. Surely we need a gap between when such important business finishes in another place and when it comes to us, so that proper advice can be taken; otherwise, the Government have an unfair advantage because they know what they are going to propose and it is difficult for the Opposition parties to prepare for it.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). There is no need for us to be in this highly unsatisfactory situation. The Bill went to Committee in January. As the hon. Gentleman said, matters were, by and large, resolved in the other place, but had that not been the case, we would have been, to all intents and purposes, unable to scrutinise the measures introduced in the other place and the substantial raft of Government amendments passed.

Madam Deputy Speak(Sylvia Heal)

I understand the difficulties outlined and the problems experienced by hon. Members and staff of the House in those circumstances, but it is not a matter for the Chair. The arrangements for the business of the House are not part of Mr. Speaker's responsibilities. It may have been more appropriate to raise that issue in business questions when the Leader of House was responding.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is precisely what I did just a few minutes ago. I am surprised that the Leader of the House was not prepared to respond to the points raised.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. The Leader of the House obviously heard what you said and he is present for this exchange. Perhaps the arrangements will be considered differently in future.

1.27 pm
Caroline Flint

I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Extradition Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State under the Act.

The House will recall that a money resolution was duly tabled and passed at the conclusion of Second Reading in this House last December. Indeed, it was passed without debate or a Division. However, on closer examination after the Bill had reached another place, we discovered that the money resolution was not comprehensive enough and did not deal with one clause. That clause is clause 154 of the latest print of the Bill or clause 153 of the version of the Bill as it left this House for another place.

The clause deals with people who are extradited to the United Kingdom and then, for whatever reason, either not put on trial or acquitted. It provides that in such circumstances the person concerned can apply to the Secretary of State to have the costs of his or her return travel to the country from which he or she was extradited paid for out of public funds. Something very similar can be found in our existing extradition legislation in section 20 of the Extradition Act 1989.

It is an infrequently used provision. Nevertheless, I am sure that hon. Members will understand why it is desirable. If we are to use public funds to pay for the return travel of those extradited but not convicted, we need a money resolution to cover it. I apologise to the House for the fact that the original money resolution was not drawn widely enough to cover that, but I trust that hon. Members will be forgiving and agree to remedy that deficiency by passing this supplementary money resolution.

1.28 pm
Mr. Hawkins

I repeat what I said in my point of order: I am grateful to the Minister and, in particular, the private secretary and others in her office for their help, given the shortage of time. I have no difficulty agreeing to the money resolution. As the Minister says, it is unfortunate that the matter was not dealt with earlier, but she has apologised to the House on behalf of the Government for that. We would certainly not want to prevent those who are extradited but then not convicted from having the opportunity to apply to public funds for reimbursement. Each case would, of course, be considered on its own merits.

While we are on the subject of the costs incurred by British citizens who are dealt with by courts abroad, will the Minister undertake to look into a related matter? She will probably be aware that in Committee and in another place there was a great deal of discussion about the parallels with the British plane spotters in Greece, even though that was not an extradition case. Whenever any British citizen goes abroad to a face court they may well incur a large expenditure. I recently tabled questions to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), because the British plane spotters who were arrested in Greece and had to surrender bail have not had their money returned. I received a reply only this week in which the Under-Secretary said: My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Attorney-General have made no representations to the Greek Government to ensure repayment of the British plane spotters' bail money. The Greek court released the bail money on 22 May 2003. One of the 12 has now received his money. The others are currently in dispute with their Greek lawyers, one of whom has taken out an injunction to prevent this money being released until a solution is agreed. This is now a private, legal dispute between the plane spotters and their lawyers.—[0fficial Report,11 November 2003; Vol. 413, c. 205W.]

I realise that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), cannot give me an answer today, but when she is looking at the costs of British subjects who face the courts abroad, particularly people who receive as much publicity as the plane spotters, to whom we shall undoubtedly return when we discuss the substance of the amendments, will she undertake to talk her colleagues in the Foreign Office? The Conservatives believe that it is unacceptable that British citizens who were taking part in a perfectly lawful activity and should never have been arrested in the first place are now substantially out of pocket. According to the answer that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the British Government are not helping them. They need help, and I am sure that the case will again attract a great deal of publicity if the Government do not provide it, so I hope that the Minister will undertake to talk to her right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign Office.

1.31 pm
Mr. Carmichael

The Minister well knows that hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and myself, are, by our very nature, forgiving people. We have no difficulty at all with the comprehensive and eminently sensible money resolution.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath made some interesting, if not necessarily germane, comments about the plane spotters in Greece. If I recall correctly, he has a constituency interest, although I may be wrong. When we first heard about the plane spotters in Committee, there was snow on the ground, but it has now been replaced by autumn leaves. Unfortunately, however, the plane spotters' situation has not been resolved satisfactorily.

1.33 pm
Caroline Flint

I shall raise this issue with my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. To pick up a comment by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), I have yet to be involved with a piece of legislation in which the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) did not have a constituency interest. He is a diligent constituency MP, and always makes sure that when we are discussing legislation, we have a realistic view of the way in which it affects people outside. I would not be surprised if he mentioned a number of his constituents in our debates today, as it would be quite right to do so.

I welcome the comments made by both hon. Gentlemen. All the main Government amendments were made on Report in the Lords, which finished two weeks ago, and the Government amendments that were considered on Third Reading in the Lords were tabled a week ago, so I hope that there was time to look at them. I was pleased to receive thanks from the hon. Gentlemen for the way in which the Department, particularly my private office, has helped them.

Question put and agreed to.