HL Deb 09 November 2004 vol 666 cc750-2

2.51 p.m.

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, since the United States has not ratified the Extradition Treaty signed by the United Kingdom and the United States on 31 March 2003, they will revoke the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Territories) Order 2003 and replace it with a new order which does not apply to the United States.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the United Kingdom will not revoke the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Territories) Order 2003 and replace it with a new order which does not apply to the United Slates. To do so would mean that extradition would no longer be possible between our two countries.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, the treaty was unbalanced to begin with, and the imbalance has become worse because of the failure of the United States to ratify the treaty, which means that we now receive no benefit at all from it. Should not the Government at the very least say to the USA that it will not get the benefit of extradition on demand, which is what in effect it is, unless and until the Senate ratifies the treaty? When the order was debated on 16 December last year, we were told that the treaty would be ratified by the Senate early in 2004. Is it in fact the case that there is opposition to the treaty in the Senate and that it may never be ratified?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have no information to indicate that the latter statement is correct. It is right to say that the new treaty has not been published in the United States, and it must be. Until it has been formally sent to the Senate for advice and consent, it cannot be processed. It is also true that we must await the outcome of that Senate decision. As the noble Lord will know, constitutionally, the US Senate can decide that it will consent to the treaty only if the text is modified. I cannot tell your Lordships how quickly that will be done, but we have had no indication of any lack of will on the part of the United States Government.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the purpose of the treaty and of the Act was to facilitate the extradition of those suspected of terrorism? I invite her to speculate on a hypothetical situation: had it been envisaged when the Bill was before Parliament that it would be used against British citizens resident in the United Kingdom accused of committing an offence in London against a British bank, does she think that Parliament would ever have enacted it?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend will know, that is a hypothetical question that I shall certainly resist answering. Terrorism was not the full picture of how we addressed the issue. The whole point of passing the Act was to ensure that we had a modern, effective, efficient procedure that could be adopted and which would be advantageous not only to the US but, more particularly, to us, because we want those who have behaved badly in our country and fled to other countries returned, and returned speedily.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick

My Lords, does the Minister agree—I think she does—that reciprocity is the only basis on which extradition can be justified; that reciprocity means reciprocity here and now, not reciprocity at some time in future; and that any other view could lead to a sense of great injustice among those affected?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will know that it is almost impossible to get absolutely identical reciprocity. If he means reciprocity in the round, I respectfully agree with him. We must remember that we have had a long and fruitful beneficial relationship with the United States and that, over time, we have had agreements that have worked and worked well. Obviously, we desire that the new arrangement be ratified as speedily as possible, but the rules that are in place are still sound and inure to our advantage.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, why are the Government so supine towards the United States, which extradites people from third countries to offshore centres and denies them access to the United States courts, while simultaneously trying to advance US jurisdiction into this country, even on tax matters?

With great respect to the Minister, I must say that, surely, the question raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, is not hypothetical. There is a case before the UK courts now, that of Bermingham, Mulgrew and Darby. I am not asking the Minister to comment on that case, but surely it is wrong in principle that, in a case alleged against British citizens for alleged crimes against British entities and where all the documentary evidence is in this country, there should be an application for extradition to America.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, first, I would describe this Government as anything other than supine. We have taken appropriate action to protect our people in the proper way. The noble Lord suggests that his hypothetical question could be answered by me, but he knows well that that would be improper because the facts are very similar to a case that is currently sub judice. The noble Lord will also know that the Extradition Act sets out clearly the rules that apply, as does our previous jurisprudence. Our courts will be entitled to examine those and decide whether or not an extradition application is well founded in our law, and they can so determine.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

My Lords, would the Minister be good enough to explain to the House the position of those cases of extradition to the United States that were in progress when the new Act came into force on 1 January 2004? Does she recall the undertaking that she gave to the House on Report: the Government's position is that the new legislation should apply to all requests received after the point at which the new Act comes into force"—[Official Report, 30/10/03; col. 415.]? Can she confirm to the House now that the undertaking that she gave then is still being honoured?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can. The new treaty reflects the best modern practice. Of course, we must wait until it is ratified by the US before the US and we can take advantage of it. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made it clear that we certainly desired that to be done, and I have affirmed that that is the position, because it is a good arrangement. I remind the noble Lord that, in the mean time, we have arrangements which have stood us in good stead that can still be used to good effect.