HL Deb 12 January 2005 vol 668 cc251-4

2.50 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I wish to make it clear that I am not referring to any particular case.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the working of the extradition treaty, signed in March 2003, between the United Kingdom and the United States.

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

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are satisfied with the current extradition arrangements with the United States. Some provisions of the new treaty were given effect in the United Kingdom on 1 January 2004 via the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Territories) Order 2003. This has already improved our extradition arrangements with the United States. The full benefits will be realised when the United States gives the treaty effect in its own law.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, which makes it clear in her own words that the Government gave effect to parts of this treaty on New Year's Day even through the United States' Senate has not ratified the treaty and, according to my information, is not likely to do so in the near future.

Since this is, as the House has discussed, an arrangement under which the Americans no longer have to support their requests for extradition with prima facie evidence while we have to continue supporting our requests to them, is this not an unequal treaty, which is likely to undermine confidence in our arrangements? Would it not be sensible, even at this stage, to renegotiate it so that we obtain for our citizens the safeguards which the French and Irish in their negotiations obtained for theirs?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I do not agree that the arrangement is unfair. The noble Lord will know that prior to the introduction of the 2003 Act we were not obliged to produce prima facie evidence in support of our applications to the United States, whereas we demanded prima facie from it. The new position is, we believe, an appropriate one. We had a long and detailed debate during the passage of the Bill in 2003, and the Government fully explained why we believe that this is a proportionate and proper response to one of our oldest and most trusted partners.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, have the Government made any investigation of the prospects of ratification, or are they simply accepting anodyne assurances from the American Government that this will happen at some time in the future? Why will not the Government abandon their supine position and revoke the designation of the USA under Section 71 of the Extradition Act, at least until the Senate does ratify the treaty?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Government do not accept the assertion made by the noble Lord that we have been supine. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that the United States Senate can decide when it will consent to the treaty. We have been assured that this matter is being dealt with expeditiously. There is no reason for us to believe that it will not appropriately go through the process. We are all aware that in the interim there has been an election in the United States and that its Senate will not come back into being for some time. Those are practical realities, but there is no reason to believe that any improper delay is in place in this situation.

Lord Baker of Dorking

My Lords, does the Minister not recognise that her answers raise serious concerns? Her Government have decided that British nationals can be extradited to America more quickly without any reciprocity in the near future. That affects their rights. In particular, it is almost impossible for a foreign national to obtain bail before an American court. In the light of these quite draconian measures, introduced at the behest of the American Government, will she make a statement that they will be used only in cases relating to terrorism?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I cannot accept what the noble Lord has just said. The new arrangements regarding the evidential requirement are not precisely reciprocal, but they are comparable. The Americans have demanded for some time that we provide probable cause. That was the position under the old Act when we demanded of them a prima facie case. Their probable cause is very similar to the information base that we now demand. For the many who say that it was unfair to the Americans in the past, it is more proportionate now. The provisions in our Act are robust. We went through them in detail in this House. There are appropriate safeguards to make sure that extradition takes place only when it is merited and in accordance with our law.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, in the light of the post-September 11 anti-terrorism laws in place both here and in the United States, how many extraditions have been made in relation to accusations of terrorism; and how many arrests using the European arrest warrant of the extradition treaty have been used in this country for actions that are not crimes in this country?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I do not have specific details in relation to the arrests not for crimes. I do not know of any in fact, but before I confirm that I shall obtain details and write to the noble Baroness. I can tell the noble Baroness that to date the United Kingdom has received 37 extradition requests from the US that are being considered under the Extradition Act 2003. There have been four surrenders to the US under the new Act and one request has been withdrawn by the United States. The United Kingdom has made two requests to the United States since the introduction of the new legislation. On the other details, I shall happily write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that there will be no change in the existing practice whereby extradition requests from the United States are automatically refused if the person concerned is likely to face a possible death sentence?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can confirm to my noble friend that there has been no change in that regard. We do not extradite unless there is an undertaking from the United States that the death penalty will not be applied to any person so extradited. We have no intention whatever of changing that position.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, have all the 37 requests from the United States to which the Minister referred been brought under this new measure which came into effect on 1 January, or will some of them be handled under the earlier procedures?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, in answer to a number of previous questions, I have made it absolutely clear that the 2003 Act is not retrospective. It will operate in relation to all the applications received after the Act came into operation. There is no element of retrospection.