HL Deb 13 May 2003 vol 648 cc127-9

2.48 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect that the terms of the United Kingdom-United States extradition treaty will be published.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the new United Kingdom-United States bilateral extradition treaty will be laid before Parliament as a Command Paper in the normal way. We hope that it will be possible for this to happen by the end of May.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, the Government have already indicated that the treaty excludes the need to produce evidence of guilt to support the extradition claim. Given that the United States of America contains 51 different jurisdictions, and that in some of them the standards of investigation and trial are questionable to say the least, how do the Government justify that?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is the case that we intend to remove the requirement for prima facie evidence to accompany extradition requests. There has been no secret about that. We drew attention to that fact in an Answer to a parliamentary Question by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. We do not see any difference between the United States as an established democracy and the other signatories to the European Convention on Extradition, which comprise some 40-plus countries.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, why have we abolished the prima facie rule?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Earl is a supporter of the party which removed that obligation from the Council of Europe countries. We do not believe that it is the sort of stringent requirement an established democracy requires.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is one important difference between our system and that of the United States? In the United States the Senate is able to scrutinise a treaty such as the extradition treaty before ratification whereas in our curious and antiquated parliamentary procedures the best that we have is the Ponsonby rule, an explanatory memorandum and exiguous parliamentary scrutiny. Do the Government now accept the recommendation of the Wakeham Commission that there should be more effective scrutiny arrangements in this House with a treaty scrutiny committee to look into matters of that kind?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, this has been the traditional way to scrutinise such treaties. There will be the opportunity for a debate on this matter in your Lordships' House. I know that the issue of adopting an affirmative procedure is one of concern to noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches. No doubt that point can be debated during the passage of the Extradition Bill through your Lordships' House.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Mr Kenny Ritchie, who is now on Death Row, becomes eligible for British citizenship in view of the fact that Section 13 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act came into force at the beginning of this month? Will the extradition treaty withhold leave to extradite any person from this country who may be liable to the death penalty in the United States?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, my understanding is that the answer to that question is "Yes".

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will the debate in this House to which the Minister referred be held on an assurance before ratification?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I think that that probably is a matter for the usual channels.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, bearing in mind that people in the United States are six times more likely to be placed in prison than are people in this country, is it wise to get rid of the requirement that prima facie evidence should be provided before extradition takes place?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we trust all other democratic nations and states without having a prima facie evidence provision in place. I see no difference between the 40 signatories to the European Convention on these matters and the United States, which is a mature and highly effective democracy.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister would reconsider that answer. I understand that in a number of democracies outside the European Union and the Council of Europe procedures it is indeed the case that prima facie evidence is still required. In the light of that, will the Minister carefully consider the Question raised by my noble friend Lord Goodhart about the very different procedures in the different states of the United States?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I understand the force of the point made by the noble Baroness. These matters can be debated and these are points to be considered, but that is the position adopted by the Government.