Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2006

House of Commons

Wednesday 12 July 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

international development

The Secretary of State was asked—


Under the 10-year development partnership arrangement, the Department for International Development will provide £330 million in assistance to Afghanistan over three years as part of the overall UK pledge of £500 million, which will help to reduce poverty, to improve security and governance and to tackle the opium problem by helping with alternative livelihoods. In Helmand, DFID is working as part of the wider UK effort to promote economic and social development and to increase the capacity of Afghan institutions to assist their people.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Given that his Department’s assessment is that only 10 per cent. of poppy farmers will have the opportunity to switch to a legal crop within a three-year period, illicit opium production will be a problem for a decade or more. Does the Secretary of State agree that if our forces are to be heavily involved in eradicating opium in the short to medium term, we may unite the Taliban, the warlords in the south and the poppy farmers in a lethal combination against our soldiers and officials?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the situation in Helmand is especially difficult. The evidence from around the world on opium eradication shows that it is a long-term task. It would not be sensible for opium to be eradicated when farmers have no other means of earning a living. That is why the Afghans, who are taking the lead, recognise the importance of, first, going after the drug barons, who enslave a lot of farmers in poverty through the debts that the farmers owe them; secondly, making it clear that the law will be enforced; and thirdly, recognising that it is sensible to pursue eradication in places only where alternative livelihoods are available. The truth is that farmers who face a choice between earning no income and being unable to feed their families, and finding some means of feeding their families, will choose the latter.

I assure my right hon. Friend that we all agree with him about ensuring that there are alternatives to poppy growing. However, does he recognise that not all farmers will give up growing poppies? Opium can be used by the medical industry for pain relief, so I wonder what help his Department can provide to ensure that the poppy growers have a market, which would benefit health services not just in this country, but throughout the world.

I am aware of the proposal, which has been made by the Senlis Council in particular, that opium growing in Afghanistan should be legalised for the pharmaceutical market. The elected Government of Afghanistan have examined that proposal and have expressed the firm view that that is not the right course of action, principally because of the lack of security and the problems with enforcing the law as it stands. The right thing for us to do in the circumstances is to support the judgment of the elected Government of Afghanistan, who are acutely conscious of the need to make progress in reducing poppy cultivation, but who recognise that it is a long-term task.

I wonder whether I can look at the question in a different way. Will the Secretary of State tell us the latest estimate of the farm-gate price of poppies as opposed to the total value of refined heroin? That relates to the cost to the Home Office and other Departments in Britain, Europe and the United States of drug-related crime. Perhaps the European Union should use its vast experience of buying unwanted crops from farmers to remove poppies from the market in Afghanistan, which would provide short-term relief to Afghan farmers and eradicate the drugs problem in Europe and North America.

I do not have the figures that the hon. Gentleman has requested on the farm-gate price, but I will endeavour to find out and will let him know, and I will also draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to his other point. On his suggestion that there should be a common agricultural policy for opium production, I fear that the only consequence would be that lots more people would plant lots more poppies and try to do so as productively as possible, because, as the hon. Gentleman is only too well aware, the CAP led to lots of over-production, whereas our objective in Afghanistan is to reduce production rather than to encourage it.

Giving ordinary Afghans the prospect of a better life is at the heart of what the Secretary of State is seeking to do. May I press him on the point made by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)? Will he tell the House whether he and his Department are exploring other means of decreasing Afghanistan’s illicit economy by converting some of the vast opium cultivation into the legal production of medical opiates, which would provide a sustainable livelihood for some poor Afghans as well as generating income for the Afghan state?

As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), that suggestion that has been made, but the Government of Afghanistan are firmly of the view that it does not want to pursue that course of action, for the reasons that I cited. My view is that we should respect the judgment that the Afghan Government have made. That is why we are concentrating our efforts on trying to help them to establish greater security in the country, to take action against the warlords, and to raid those who are turning the poppy into opium that is sold on our streets. It is a very important task because the country is desperately poor as a result of having suffered so much from conflict. We should take heart from the fact that last year the legal economy grew by 14 per cent. and that many refugees have gone back to Afghanistan. However, it will be a long, hard slog, and we should stay with the Afghan people while we support them.

Several questions have been asked in the House about the narco-economy that has become the foundation of the economy in Afghanistan. Will the Secretary of State outline what projects are being carried out for reconstruction and to provide alternatives? I say that in the context of a budget that last year was twice the size for poppy eradication as it was for rural development.

We are considerably increasing the funding that we are putting into alternative livelihoods. When I visited Afghanistan a month and a half ago, I said that we would invest £30 million in Helmand province to support alternative livelihoods. When I met Governor Daud with members of the provincial council in Lashkargah, their concerns were pretty obvious. They wanted health care, education, the clearing of irrigation canals and a greater supply of clean water. That is why the work that our forces are doing to try to ensure security in Helmand is so important. The Taliban, in particular, are hostile not only to British forces, as we have seen with their attacks on them, but to the Government of Afghanistan, to Governor Daud and to any of the non-governmental organisations that have been working on rural development, just as they are hostile to head teachers and teachers who insist on teaching girls. Some of those have been murdered, as the hon. Lady will know. We are ready to invest significant amounts of money in supporting the process of providing more alternative livelihoods—as we have done in the north in Badakhshan, for example—but security is the essential first precondition. That is why we should support the British forces in the work that they are undertaking.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

2. What steps he is taking to protect children accused of witchcraft in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (84328)

The UK raised awareness of the problem of children being accused of witchcraft in the DRC as part of our EU presidency, and we are working with civil society, established Churches and the Congolese Government to push for action to bring those who abuse children to justice. We have supported training on child protection, and we are also making significant contributions to the 2006 UN action plan and the International Committee of the Red Cross appeal, both of which include programmes to protect vulnerable children.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for the DRC. He will be aware that the all-party group on the Great Lakes region and genocide prevention visited that country in April. We visited a centre for children accused of witchcraft, where we heard stories of appalling abuse conducted against children, including beating to death, blinding and amputation of parts of the body. Will my right hon. Friend work with his Department and with Home Office and Foreign Office officials to ensure that whatever Government are elected on 30 July, we do not allow visas to preachers from evangelical and revivalist churches who preach such witchcraft stuff to come to this country for treatment? May I further ask him to increase the supplies for NGOs—

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and her colleagues for raising this matter, in which she takes a close interest and which we have discussed previously. We are working with NGOs in the DRC to compile information on pastors who are responsible for identifying children as witches, leading to their being subject to the abuse that my hon. Friend has drawn to the attention of the House. We are working on that with the FCO and the Home Office. It would be helpful if other European countries would do the same, because pastors come not only to the UK, but to France and Belgium because of the historic links between the DRC and the Francophone world. Sadly, this is not part of the tradition in the DRC, but something that has arisen in recent years, partly because of poverty. Charlatans set up these charismatic churches, and when their prayers do not work they finger poor innocent children and blame them for it. It is a scandal, and we will continue to raise it with the Government of the DRC.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his interest in this issue. Does he agree that the Vatican has an important role to play in strongly condemning the way in which some pastors are not taking as strong a line as they should on child witchcraft? Given that the all-party group has a meeting with the Papal Nuncio on 20 July, will he lend the Government’s support to our efforts to get the Vatican to take a firmer and more public line against this practice?

I wish the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues a successful meeting with the Papal Nuncio. Indeed, I would urge all those who can bring influence to bear on these churches to do so. This terrible practice has nothing to do with any faith that I understand, and it is important that those in positions of responsibility speak out openly and honestly to encourage pressure to be brought to bear to bring it to an end.

Does my right hon. Friend think that the forthcoming elections in the DRC, to which the House is sending five observers, will assist us in dealing with issues such as that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh)? How will his Department and the Government work with the DRC during and after the elections to resolve such difficult problems?

I agree that the elections, the first phase of which will take place on 30 July, are fundamental to the future of the DRC. Indeed, the people of the DRC have invested an enormous amount of hope in the democratic process as a way of improving their lives. We have provided help with the electoral registration process, and to the observers who will be going, and I wish good luck to the Members of the House who will be taking part in the elections. The two most important factors are, first, that the international community should support the newly elected Government and help them to do their job of improving public services; and secondly, and most importantly, that those who take part in the electoral process—including those who do not win—stay with that process. It would be unforgivable if, after three years of transitional government, those who have come into it then went back to conflict just because they were not successful. The fact is that democracy is the only hope that the DRC has of moving forward.

Given that the right hon. Gentleman has already had substantial discussions with Congolese officials, will he tell the House whether any church that conducts these abusive child deliverance ceremonies has been either suspended or outlawed? Can he offer the House a follow-up to Project Violet, the landmark event that was organised last year?

If the hon. Gentleman is talking about any of those churches being suspended by the Congolese authorities, I am not aware that that has happened. However, I shall make inquiries about that and come back to him. I know that our ambassador, Andy Sparks, has raised the issue directly with President Kabila, and I pay tribute to the work that he, DFID colleagues and others have done in pursuing the matter. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we will continue to raise the issue, and I would be very happy to consider any suggestions that hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to make about further ways in which we can help.

European Bank of Reconstruction and Development

3. If he will make a statement on the contribution to development made by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. (84329)

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was established in 1991 to assist the development of the private sector in the former communist countries of central and eastern Europe. Since then, it has developed a strong record in that area, helping to lever in considerable private sector investment, create jobs and generally help to promote economic growth. Since 2004, the focus of the bank’s operations has begun to shift further towards the poorest countries in the region.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that substantial criticism has been directed at Shell by environmental non-governmental organisations over the Sakhalin II oil and gas project? What is being done to address those concerns?

Let me reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are fully aware of the social, environmental and energy security issues that are associated with the Sakhalin project. A number of Ministers, myself included, have met the non-governmental organisations in the UK that are particularly concerned about the project. As a result, we have also met President Lemierre and representatives of Shell a number of times to discuss those concerns. At the invitation of Shell, I asked some of our officials to go to the Sakhalin project, the better to see for themselves how those concerns were being addressed. We have not yet been asked to support a loan by the EBRD or the Export Credits Guarantee Department to the Sakhalin project. If we are, we will obviously take full account of the concerns that have been raised with us.

Has the Minister assessed the effectiveness of development funding spent by the EBRD compared with that spent by the European Union—or, indeed, by his own Department—in particular to ensure good governance and transparency?

I have not conducted such a comparative assessment, but I do have a strong regard for the work of the EBRD. For example, it has played critical roles in helping to modernise a variety of electricity plants across Russia and Poland, in helping to upgrade regional road networks, and in railway projects. It is also playing a crucial role in the decommissioning of nuclear plants in Lithuania and in Russia. It is making an important contribution, and I welcome the fact that it is shifting its focus to the poorest countries in the region. We will continue to work with it very closely.

As my hon. Friend knows, I recently visited Kyrgyzstan, which is one of the countries most affected by the reconstruction after the fall of the Soviet Union. Is he aware that Kyrgyzstan’s economy is rapidly heading backwards, and that per capita income is in many cases lower than in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa? Is he confident that the EBRD has a role to play in central Asia, and that it can have a significant impact on the lives of those most affected by the changes of the past decade?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the particular challenges associated with economic growth and poverty reduction in Kyrgyzstan. The international community needs to focus more on the specific challenges of addressing poverty in central Asia. We need to continue to work to promote good governance not only in Kyrgyzstan but in Tajikistan, in order to help those countries to tackle corruption and to get more international aid into both countries. DFID has been scaling up our work in Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, and we continue to work with the EBRD and other international financial institutions in the way that I have described.

The bank’s mandate clearly states that it must work only in countries committed to democratic principles, yet it has recently provided significant funding to Belarus, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. That is yet another example of an inherent contradiction within European institutions. Others include the EU water initiative, which has failed to provide access to water for a single individual. Moreover, a recent Save the Children report states that the EU is consistently the worst performer in disbursing aid and is mired in bureaucracy. What is the Minister’s strategy to improve the EU’s aid effectiveness, and what pressure is he putting on the bank to ensure that there is progress in both political and economic transition in these ex-Soviet republics?

I do not accept Save the Children’s critique of European Commission aid. There has been substantial improvement in the quality of EC aid over the past five years, although more reform is necessary. On engagement with regimes such as Belarus and Uzbekistan, we must recognise that we should not penalise the very poorest people in such countries, but that we also need to continue to champion democracy, good governance and reforms to improve poor people’s participation in the running of their country. We will continue to do just that through the EBRD, EC aid, other parts of the European architecture, other European member states and, indeed, our own programmes.

2006 G8 Summit

Our priority for the summit at the end of this week is to make sure that the G8 leaders continue to focus on delivering the commitments they made at Gleneagles last year on support to Africa. We have also worked hard to make sure that development priorities are included in the three Russian focus areas of energy, infectious diseases and education.

Will the Minister raise the issue of non-governmental organisations with President Putin at the G8 this year? Does the Minister agree that the crackdown on NGOs’ operations is very unwelcome, especially in connection with the monitoring of human rights in Russia itself?

The hon. Lady may know that considerable international concern was expressed about the proposed draft new law on the regulation of NGOs in Russia. We have been part of the process of lobbying for reform of that draft law, and substantial improvements have been made to the legislation that has gone through, as opposed to the original draft presented to NGOs and other authorities. The hon. Lady might also like to know that we fund a range of NGOs for work on human rights, democracy and good governance in Russia. Some of them work with Russian authorities, such as those reforming prisons, while others do not. Through that type of work, and through the engagement of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, we will continue to raise concerns about how NGOs are restricted and about human rights more generally.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the hard work done in churches such as Lindley Methodist church, which, last week, was one of the smallest churches to beat the drum for fair trade? Like Colne Valley, which is now a fair trade area, it recognises that fair trade is the best way forward to relieve poverty. Will he ensure that that is high on the agenda for the G8 summit?

I pay tribute to the work of the church to which my hon. Friend has alluded, and to other churches and NGO supporters up and down the country who played a crucial role in making the Gleneagles summit such a success last year. There is no doubt that we have more to do on the issue of fair trade. In particular, we need agreement on a fair outcome to the current round of World Trade Organisation talks. We will continue to work to that purpose, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will want to discuss that key issue with other G8 leaders.

The Minister will follow the progress, or lack of it, at the WTO as closely as anyone. He will therefore be aware that on the three critical issues—greater agricultural tariff cuts by the European Union, better access to developing country markets and lower agricultural subsidies in the US—there is a real possibility of a deal if everyone moves a little. The serious effects of failure are recognised. What steps are he and the Prime Minister taking, in the margins of the G8 and beyond, to help to generate the political will to unlock those talks?

The hon. Gentleman is right that a fair outcome to the current round of World Trade Organisation talks would have a potentially huge benefit for the poorest people of the world, as well as considerable potential benefit to UK and EU citizens. He is also right that there is a need for all sides in the talks to shift. Recently, there have been signals from several key players that they are willing to move. We are at a critical point in the current round of WTO discussions, and I have no doubt that there will be further discussions in the margins of the G8, as there have been in the run-up to the G8 summit, to finesse the progress needed so that we can sign the type of deal that we all want.

May I draw to my hon. Friend’s attention the statement to the G8 from the G8 plus 5 legislators forum on climate change, which I chaired at the weekend? Does he agree that if development is not to be undermined by the catastrophic effects of climate change, the international financial institutions must dramatically increase investment in low-carbon energy, and developing countries must be assisted to find measures of adaptation to climate change?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on this issue, and welcome the statement to which she has referred. There is no question but that the G8 summit provides us with an opportunity to continue the discussions on climate change that took place at Gleneagles last year. The G8 Finance Ministers have already committed themselves to work to improve access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy supplies in Africa. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be aware of the clean energy investment framework pushed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. A range of international financial institutions are committed to that process, and we are now working with them on the detail of that proposal.


5. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of UK aid to Uganda; and if he will make a statement. (84331)

UK aid to Uganda is supporting the Government’s poverty eradication action plan. It includes poverty reduction budget support, major humanitarian assistance in northern Uganda, support to civil society and projects to improve the performance of the Government. The effectiveness of our programme is reviewed regularly. UK assistance to Uganda has helped it to reduce poverty by one third since 1992, to double the numbers of children in primary education since 1996, and to double both clinic attendances and immunisation rates since 2000.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. What is Britain doing to encourage the Ugandan Government and voluntary organisations to ensure that there is free education and support for children and young people who have escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army?

The British Government are funding projects, some of which I saw for myself during my recent visit to Gulu. I was also able to visit Kitgum, which is providing support to rehabilitate children and reintegrate them into society. I think that the single most important contribution we have made is the financial support that we have given to Uganda, because it helped the country to abolish fees for primary education. That resulted in a significant increase in the number of children who could get an education, and we want to see the same in all parts of the country.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before I list my engagements, let me say that I am sure the whole House will join me in condemning utterly the brutal and shameful attacks in India yesterday which killed so many innocent people. Our message from Britain to the people and country of India is that we stand with them in solidarity to defeat this terrorism wherever it exists.

I am sure that the House will also want to join me in sending sympathy and condolences to the family of Private Damien Raymond Jackson, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. As we know, this is a difficult mission, but his country can be immensely proud of him, and we mourn his loss.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Following his visit to Southmead in my constituency, can my right hon. Friend tell me what more local people said they wanted to be done about crime and antisocial behaviour? Did anyone suggest that hugging a hoodie would help?

I have to say that I have never felt like hugging a hoodie, other than, possibly, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood)—and even that sparingly.

In the context of what the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said the other day, it is important to recognise that although of course we need to tackle some of the underlying causes of crime—that is the reason for the new deal for the unemployed, which the Conservatives oppose, for the Sure Start programme, at which they turn up their noses, and for the extra spending on education and nursery places—we also need strong antisocial behaviour, so that—[Laughter.] Strong antisocial behaviour measures! The right hon. Member for Witney used to condemn them as a gimmick, but I think that most people in the country support them wholeheartedly.

If the Prime Minister wants to turn this into a session in which I answer the questions and he asks them, he can always call a general election.

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the death of Private Damien Jackson? May I also say that we too send our condolences to the victims of those dreadful bomb attacks in India, and to their families? The attacks were indiscriminate and cowardly. They show once again that all countries are at risk from terrorism, and that all of us must stand together to defeat it.

This week the only voluntary police force merger, between Cumbria and Lancashire, was abandoned. The chief constable of Cumbria said

“If it can’t work”—


“it can’t work anywhere.”

Will the Prime Minister now accept that forced mergers are certainly out of the question?

For exactly the reason that my right hon. Friend gave to the Minister of State, this morning, we do not believe—although we have listened to the representations that have been made—that it is sensible to force the merger. Let me explain to the right hon. Gentleman about Lancashire and Cumbria. The reason for the difficulty there is that they cannot agree on the equalisation of the precept—but it is still important, and will be important in parts of the country, for there to be either a merger of forces or a far better strategic capability that crosses borderlines.

Three weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister the identical question. I asked him whether he would abandon forced mergers and he said, “No”. Can he tell us what has changed? Has not the Prime Minister been wasting police time?

No, we were asked to listen to the representations that were made and we have listened to them. As he knows, the reason why mergers are on the agenda is the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate—[Hon. Members: “They are off the agenda”] No, they are not off the agenda. We listened because people made representations about the forced mergers that they do not want to see. On the other hand, the point made by the inspectorate of constabulary remains and there will be areas where it is important to have far greater strategic co-operation across force lines. It is also important to proceed with mergers where we find the consent to do so.

So the flagship of forced mergers has sunk without trace. Let us turn to another flagship that is sinking fast—ID cards. Will the Prime Minister admit to the House that the whole project is now being reviewed, including the timetable and the type of card?

No, I certainly will not say that, because it is not correct. It is very important—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman is basing his comments on leaked e-mails in the newspapers, I suggest that he does not raise that topic. If he looks at what is happening, he will see that it is important that we proceed with identity cards for the simple reason that if we do not have a proper identity card system, we will not be able to track illegal immigrants in this country or prevent identity fraud and abuse. It is for that reason that we most certainly will proceed to introduce identity cards.

But everyone apart from the Prime Minister knows that the project is in deep trouble. The civil servant responsible for delivering it says that it is being delayed and another civil servant says:

“It’s impossible to imagine the full scheme being brought in before 2026”.

Even the Prime Minister will be gone by then. So who is telling the truth—the Prime Minister who says it is all going fine, or the civil servants who say it is a botched job?

They do not say that. What they say is that we have to get the details of how we introduce it right—and we will. It is a huge programme and there are bound to be changes along the way. But the basic point of introducing identity cards, alongside the fact that we will have to have biometric passports introduced in any event, is of central importance to the security of this country. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is actually he who has changed his mind—[Interruption.] Does he want me to go through them? He opposed tuition fees and now supports them; he opposed foundation hospitals and now supports them; and the fact of the matter is that he will end up agreeing with this proposal as well, because it is right and necessary for the country’s security.

This week we have seen police mergers abandoned, ID cards delayed, tax credits completely defrauded and, after all that, we have discovered that we have a Deputy Prime Minister who thinks he is a cowboy! Apparently, he is “really looking forward” to standing in for the Prime Minister over the summer. Please tell us that that is not going to happen.

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is going to happen. We will carry on with our policies. I notice again that he has not asked me about any specific policy issue at all. [Interruption.] No, he does not.

We will continue to introduce the antisocial behaviour legislation that the country needs; we will pursue identity cards because they are right; and we will continue with our health and school reforms because they are right. We have launched the energy review and the pensions proposals and we will carry on making the decisions that are right for the long-term interests of this country.

I asked the Prime Minister a pretty simple question: is the Deputy Prime Minister going to be running the country in August when the Prime Minister is away? Yes or no?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the arrangements are exactly the same as they have been in previous years. The important thing is that when it comes to the country’s future in terms of the economy, public services, law and order, pensions and energy—indeed, when it comes to the big decisions—this side has the answers and the right hon. Gentleman cannot make up his mind. [Interruption.] He will not even dare debate the policy ideas. In the last few weeks, he has launched his proposal for a Bill of Rights, and he launched his law and order policy on Monday. The fact is that none of his proposals stands up to scrutiny. If the country wants the right long-term decisions, it will carry on backing this Government.

My right hon. Friend will recall the ardent support that he and his constituents in Sedgefield gave my constituents in Stockton and Billingham in the campaign that I led to oppose the disposal of 100,000 tonnes of high level/intermediate level radioactive waste in the disused anhydrite mines of Billingham. We won the campaign, thanks to the Prime Minister’s support, and the campaign for the other four sites in Billingham. Has the Prime Minister’s attitude and that of his constituents changed? If so, how and why?

I should think that their attitude has not changed to storage in that specific place, but, as my hon. Friend knows, we will have to deal with decommissioning nuclear waste, irrespective of what else happens, because we have had nuclear power in this country for more than half a century. We must obviously take care of decommissioning the waste and the nuclear power stations. If we are to ensure that this country’s energy supplies are secure in future, and that we can grow sustainably and reduce CO2 emissions, we need the full balance of policies—energy efficiency, renewables and replacing existing nuclear power stations.

May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of sympathy and condolence from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?

Last week, the Prime Minister told me that it was not true that the United States had to meet a different standard of evidence from the United Kingdom in extradition cases. On 16 December 2003, Baroness Scotland told the House of Lords that the United Kingdom had to reach a higher threshold than the United States. Which is true—no difference or a higher threshold?

The evidence I have from the Attorney-General’s consultations with the senior Treasury counsel is twofold. It may help the House if I set it out. First, in the Attorney-General’s view, the test that the United States applies—probable cause—is roughly analogous to the test that we apply in this country. [Interruption.] But secondly—if the House will listen—and perhaps more important, according to the senior Treasury counsel, even under the old test of having to provide prima facie evidence, those people would still be extradited. Indeed, the case for extradition was originally mounted under the old law, not the new one. However, I totally understand the concerns of the particular individuals and their families. The Attorney-General has spoken to the US Department of Justice and has been informed that the American prosecutors will not oppose bail as long as the appropriate conditions are put in place by the court or agreed by the defendants. It would not be right if we ended up applying a higher standard and burden of proof to America than to many other countries, including European countries, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even countries such as Azerbaijan and Albania.

That does not appear to deal with the contradiction between what the Prime Minister said last week and what Baroness Scotland said to the House of Lords. Will not the Prime Minister accept that the Government have negotiated an unfair treaty, against the interests of the British people, which was needlessly rushed through the House of Commons in Committee proceedings that lasted only 90 minutes, and that it is absurd to continue to act under it when the United States declines to ratify it? In view of the anxiety in the business community and both Houses of Parliament, will the Prime Minister now renegotiate the treaty?

Again, let me explain to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the basis of the matter—that the United States is extraditing people from the United Kingdom in circumstances in which we could not extradite from the United States—is wrong according to the information that I have. Those people would have been extradited even under the old treaty provisions. “Probable cause”, which comes under the American constitution and will remain even if the treaty is ratified, is similar to test that we apply. The real issue, which I understand for obvious reasons, is consideration for the men and their families were they to be refused bail in the United States. We are doing everything that we can to avoid that, but if we were to end up reversing the extradition treaty, we would not take away a special privilege that is given to America but impose a special detriment on America. That cannot be right.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, when I was mugged and robbed in London, the hooded youths responsible were simply making a plea for love and understanding? [Laughter.] Does he agree with my constituents, who think that the overwhelming majority of young people are decent and law abiding but who look to this Government’s antisocial behaviour laws for protection from the menacing minority—laws that the Liberal Democrats oppose and the Conservatives undermine?

First of all, I am sorry that my right hon. Friend had such a distressing experience, but he is absolutely right in what he says. The overwhelming majority of young people are decent and law abiding, and are often the victims of antisocial behaviour and crime, but it is true that a small minority of young people make life hell for people in their local communities, terrorising people and committing acts of thuggery such as my right hon. Friend describes. We need the tough powers in the antisocial behaviour legislation to deal with them. Of course we have to deal with the underlying causes of crime, and that is why we are doubling the amount of money going into drug treatment—a policy that is also opposed by the Opposition. However, hon. Members on this side of the House will always stand up for the law-abiding citizen against such people.

Q2. The Prime Minister will know Harefield hospital’s reputation as a world leader for complex heart surgery. Will he join me in congratulating the staff for what they achieve, despite inadequate facilities? Following the slow death of the Paddington health campus, will he join the call for the hospital’s future to be resolved quickly, so that the trust can move on and build an even better service for patients? (84313)

I certainly hope that the hospital’s future can be resolved quickly, but I hope too that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there have been enormous strides forward in cardiac care in this country over the past few years. When we came to office, people were often waiting 18 months or two years for heart operations, and they often died while they were on the waiting list. The wait is now down to about three months, although the average is lower, and an immense amount of investment is going into things like statins. Of course I hope that the future of Harefield hospital is settled shortly, but it is not right for any hon. Member to think that cardiac care in this country has not improved significantly over the past few years as a result of the investment and change that this Government have put in place.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mancunians have welcomed very strongly the announcement—which has been awaited for too long—that the city’s metrolink is to be rolled out? People see that as further evidence of the partnership between central Government and the city of Manchester, which is regarded as the social, economic and entertainment capital of the whole region—[Hon. Members: “And the world!”] And, indeed, the world. Would he organise a competition to try to explain what the “something dreadful” was that happened to the Leader of the Opposition’s Parliamentary Private Secretary when he was in Manchester recently?

It would be nice to know that, but I suspect that we never will. However, my hon. Friend is right in what he says. The important thing is that Manchester makes use of the more than £500 million available to expand the metrolink. That is a fantastic project for the whole city, and it shows again the benefit of investing in inner-city regeneration—especially in fantastic cultural capitals such as Manchester.

Nuclear Deterrent

Q3. Whether his commitment to retain the nuclear deterrent applies beyond the lifespan of the current Trident submarine fleet. (84314)

We made it clear in our 2005 manifesto that we are committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent, and that means for the life of the current system. As I have said previously, decisions on the period beyond that will be taken later this year.

The whole House will note that the Prime Minister was a lot less definite than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who talked about retaining the nuclear deterrent not just for this Parliament but long into the future. If the decision is taken to replace the Trident submarine fleet, will any successor fleet be funded from the current defence budget, or will extra funds be allocated from outside that budget?

Any decision on funding has to await later negotiation. Most people understand that a decision on the independent nuclear deterrent is very much sui generis. The reasons why we want to retain the deterrent are set out in our manifesto, and I entirely agree with what the Chancellor said.

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the Government are committed to the terms of the 1970 non-proliferation treaty, which requires the five declared nuclear weapons states to engage in a process of long-term disarmament? Does he accept that rearmament by any of the five reduces any moral clout we might have in encouraging other states not to develop their own nuclear weapons, which makes the world a more dangerous place?

Actually, we have made considerable reductions both in systems and, I think, in the number of warheads. Of course it is true, if we can negotiate the right terms, that we want progressively over time to see a reduction in nuclear capability worldwide, but that has to be done by negotiation.


Q4. Very sick babies are being shunted around the country because of a lack of intensive care capacity. Yet when I asked the Department of Health about the issue six weeks ago, it said it did not collect the information centrally. Will the Prime Minister get the Department of Health to take an interest in what is going on in the health service, and will he have this urgent problem sorted out quickly? (84315)

Of course, the Department is deeply concerned about issues to do with neonatal networks and units right around the country. It is fair to say that, over the past few years alone, there has been an increase in funding in the region of £70 million for such units. It is important to recognise that we are training far more staff, but there is also greater demand. I am pleased to say that the mortality rate has declined substantially, but we are of course looking at what more we can do in relation to staff and resources.

Yesterday, the Select Committee on Defence took evidence from the Secretary of State for Defence, in which he made it quite clear that the widest possible consultation would take place on the nuclear deterrent. Surely, irrespective of one’s point of view, it is right that the power to make the ultimate determination should come back to the House. Surely that is how things should be done, and a vote should be taken here.

As I have said before, when we publish the decision taken by the Government, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will announce the exact form of making sure that we consult the House. I point out that we have given votes on very sensitive issues before, and that is a strong possibility on this issue.

Q5. May I press the Prime Minister? Why is he so determined to avoid a vote in the House on the renewal of our nuclear deterrent? He may not have the support of the hon. Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) or for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), but he will certainly have support on the Opposition side of the House if he puts it to a vote. (84316)

Thank you very much for that. No doubt it was kindly meant, but I refer to what I said a moment or two ago: on these sensitive issues we have often given votes—before the Iraq war, we were one of the first Governments to give people a vote before this country took the decision to go to war. We are not at all averse to votes of this House on extremely sensitive issues, and I have no doubt that there will be the fullest debate.

Will the Prime Minister explain why he takes such different positions on education in this part of the United Kingdom and education in Northern Ireland? Why did he support his Back Benchers going through the Lobby to keep selection in England, unless parents decide against, yet force through in two and a half hours a complete change to the system in Northern Ireland? Why does he have such different standards for education in Northern Ireland?

There is, of course, I hope, a way that that can be resolved by people in Northern Ireland, which is for the devolved institutions to get back up and running. I hope that they are successful in that.

Q6. Earlier this year, Appledore shipyard in my constituency won a tender competition for a Scottish fisheries protection vessel. Last month, that tender process was cancelled in highly questionable circumstances. Hundreds of jobs are directly and indirectly at stake. What has the Prime Minister to say to my constituents who ask why their Member of Parliament is unable to hold the decision maker to account in this or any other House? Does he feel that it is more important that Labour Members for Scottish constituencies do not feel like second-class MPs than that 85,000 people in Torridge should feel second-class— (84317)

In relation to the particular decision, of course these are always very difficult decisions. It is true that, in this instance, it was taken by the Scottish Executive. It is also true that people are perfectly free to raise it. The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that we are trying to make the right decisions in relation to procurement within very strict budgetary terms. I am sure that no one wants to make sure that the people in his constituency are out of work, but those decisions have been taken by the appropriate authority.

Q7. Speaking as a Scot with a north-west of England constituency, is the Prime Minister aware of early-day motion 2519, which refers to hon. Members’ voting rights? That early-day motion argues that to ban Members of Parliament from Scotland from voting on English matters could lead to a constitutional crisis or to the break-up of the United Kingdom. It also supports every Member in the House accepting and getting access to the voting systems—the democratic systems—in the House. Does the Prime Minister agree with that and will he sign the early-day motion? (84318)

The important thing is to stress that England is of course the majority country within the United Kingdom. We vote through the money here in the House, of course. Under the constitutional settlement, the vast majority of the MPs who do that are English. I think that devolution is a sensible way of keeping the United Kingdom together, but it would be a very, very grave mistake indeed to end up with two classes of MP in the House.

May I compliment you, Mr. Speaker, on your visual acuity in spotting me between the two tallest Members of Parliament? It strikes me that if the head of a school, a charity, a public body or a council were to announce their retirement but refuse to set a date, they would be rightly considered both arrogant and self-centred. Why should we consider the Prime Minister any differently?

Q8. This weekend at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, discussions will take place on energy, education and infectious diseases. Will the Prime Minister tell the House his objectives for the summit and how he sees those objectives building on the commitments that were given at Gleneagles a year ago? (84319)

In particular in relation to the G8, it is important that we recommit to the objectives in helping in Africa. There will be a particular focus on education at the G8. In relation to climate change and energy, although the summit will focus particularly on energy security, none the less, again I think that it is important that we focus on climate change as well. One of the single most important issues that will run throughout the summit, even if not formally, will be the World Trade Organisation talks, which at the moment are stalled. That is extremely important in my view. This weekend may be one of the last opportunities we have got to restart those talks productively and get the right agreement between Brazil, India and the developing countries on the one hand, and America, Europe and Japan on the other.

In 1997, the Prime Minister wrote of the ministerial code:

“In issuing this Code, I should like to reaffirm my strong personal commitment to restoring the bond of trust between the British people and their Government…I will expect all Ministers to work within the letter and spirit of the Code.”

Last week, he told the Liaison Committee:

“If there is reason to believe someone has broken the Code, I will take action”.

Well, there is the valuable transport union flat that the Deputy Prime Minister occupied as Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, there is the behaviour with a junior female office subordinate, which would have led to the sacking of a civil servant, and now there is Philip Anschutz’s hospitality. When will the Prime Minister live up to his fine words and call in Sir John Bourn to investigate these allegations of breaches of the ministerial code?

I have nothing to say to the hon. Gentleman other than the fact that we have got one of the largest regeneration projects that will happen in London, which will bring somewhere in the region of 10,000 affordable homes, 20,000 jobs—[Interruption.]

Order. A question has been put to the Prime Minister. I do not want hon. Members shouting at him while he answers.

I was just pointing out that as a result of the regeneration, there will be somewhere in the region of 10,000 affordable homes, more than 20,000 jobs and £5 billion of private sector investment. It is entirely right that we support such huge regeneration coming to this country, but I know that none of those issues concerns the hon. Gentleman.

Q9. Is that well- known medical term to be frazzled the result of hugging a hoodie and making policy on the hoof? (84320)

I can only say to my hon. Friend that when we actually analyse the policy statements of Conservative Members, especially on something like yesterday’s energy review, it is the case, as I said earlier, that whatever points the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) makes, when it comes to long-term decisions that affect the future of this country, it is this Labour side, not the Conservatives, that has the answers.

Q10. Given all the extra money that the Prime Minister likes to remind us that his Government have put into the national health service, can he explain why my constituents and those of many other hon. Members are having to wait up to two years for an appointment for a hearing aid? Does he agree that such a situation is completely unacceptable? Will he say what action he will be taking to support the campaign of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People to bring that waiting list down? (84321)

We are working with organisations for the deaf precisely to do that. When the hon. Gentleman refers rightly to the large sums of investment that have gone into the health service, but points out some of the problems that we have still got to overcome, I hope that he accepts how much improvement there has been in the national health service over the past eight or nine years as a result of the investment that has gone in. In his area, for example, there are 11,500 more nurses and 1,000 more consultants, and waiting times have come down dramatically for in-patients and out-patients. That is a result of the investment and reform that this Government have carried out. Yes, we have still got a lot to do, but a lot has been done.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week, I raised a point of order about the lack of answers to my specific questions with regard to establishing the facts about whether or not released foreign nationals who were convicted of serious sexual offences were placed on the sex offenders register. The Leader of the House has said about questions:

“the House will know that it is also important that they are answered accurately and comprehensively.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 772.]

It is with regret that I have to inform you, Mr. Speaker, that I have waited two months for a detailed specific answer. I was told by the Home Office that I was given only a generic answer to a very specific point and simply directed to read a statement that was sent to the Home Affairs Committee, although that statement made absolutely no reference whatsoever to my specific inquiries.

I cannot accept that there is no answer to the question. Surely the Secretary of State is responsible to the House for ensuring the delivery of information on this very specific question. I thus seek your guidance on the matter, Mr. Speaker.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. I do not comment on the content of ministerial replies, but I can understand the frustration that she feels. The Table Office is well aware of the issue and is ready to assist the hon. Lady with follow-up questions.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard that an important speech was made earlier today by the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety about the amalgamation of police forces. The matter has concerned many hon. Members for several months. Should not that all-important statement—it was a policy U-turn—have been made in this place so that it could be have been examined by all Members of Parliament?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) had been following the debates in the House closely enough, he would have seen that that had been announced in the House, not least on 19 June when I made it absolutely plain that although the mergers and the coming together for protective services of police forces was to be maintained as the destination, I had changed the position on enforced mergers, not force mergers. In other words, I was no longer proceeding with a situation in which we would be laying orders against the wishes of the forces involved. That is what has changed, not our desire to bring together police forces in new configurations.

Order. Let me reply to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). I am sure that we will come back to this matter. Although we have heard from the Home Secretary, there is nothing to prevent the hon. Gentleman from seeking an Adjournment debate so that the Home Secretary or an appropriate Minister could come to the House. I would advise him to do that.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember the practice of the House. When a Minister rises on a point of order to make a contribution to the point of order, it is within the discretion of the Chair to treat that as a statement, and at that point hon. Members are entitled to ask questions of the Minister who has intervened.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I listened carefully to the answer that you gave to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main). You will know that I raised that matter in the House on 14 June, at the conclusion of Prime Minister’s questions—I had tabled a named day question on 29 April on the specific issue of foreign prisoner releases from Her Majesty’s prison in Peterborough. I was reassured by the Leader of the House on that occasion that the matter would be looked into. Thirteen weeks later, I have still not received a substantive answer to my question. That is unacceptable. Putting a generic statement in the House of Commons Library is unacceptable, too.

The hon. Gentleman was present in the Chamber when I advised the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) to go to the Table Office, which will help. I shall go no further than that. The hon. Gentleman should go to the Table Office as well.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have sought to be extremely helpful to the House. Would it be possible during this point of order to ask the Home Secretary whether he intends to make any announcement about other enforced mergers, particularly Cheshire and Merseyside, which has been so strongly opposed? If he makes a statement on one, it would help the House if he included all the mergers that are so strongly opposed.

No, I shall not do that. The House knows that I have, unusually, put aside the business of the House to allow the debate under Standing Order No. 24 to proceed, and I do not wish to intervene any further. These matters can be pursued with the Home Secretary on other occasions.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I listened carefully to the response that you gave to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main). I note that you say that further questions should be asked of relevant Ministers. However, if the Minister were to answer the question in the first place, would there not be a saving for the taxpayer on further questions needing to be asked? You will agree, I think, that each question costs a substantial amount of money. Is there not a case for Ministers to answer questions properly in the first place?

There certainly is a case. That would have saved a lot of bother, and the Speaker would not have to answer point of order, would he?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to detain the House unnecessarily, but Lancashire and Cumbria was not a forced merger. It was a voluntary measure, which has been stopped—

Order. We are now entering into a debate, and we have the main business of the House to deal with.

UK-US Extradition Treaty

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

Leave having been given on Tuesday 11 July under Standing Order No. 24.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing this debate to be held on a matter of tremendous seriousness and urgency. We are all aware that tomorrow morning, three British citizens are to be extradited to the United States on the basis of an unfair, imbalanced treaty that the Government negotiated in secret and to which they devoted the most cursory parliamentary scrutiny imaginable. Although it is too late to alter the fate of the so-called NatWest three, except in terms of pressing for bail, in which we support any efforts that the Government are able to make, it is not too late to abandon that treaty, which is not yet in force in international law, but which we have chosen, inexplicably, to implement unilaterally.

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches have objected to the extradition arrangements with the USA ever since the text of the new treaty was published in May 2003. We spoke and voted against the orders implementing our end of the treaty in December 2003. We have tabled a Bill in the House to restore the need for prima facie evidence to be provided by US authorities when requesting extradition. We have supported in another place amendments to the Police and Justice Bill that would suspend our implementation of the treaty. The purpose of those parliamentary initiatives has been to prevent serious injustice for those who face extradition to the USA or may do so in future—injustice because the extradition treaty and its enactment through the Extradition Act 2003 is manifestly unfair to British citizens.

Several times in the past 24 hours or so, the hon. Gentleman has made the point that parliamentary scrutiny of the measure was minimal, but, in fact, the draft Bill was the subject of a fairly detailed Home Affairs Committee report. The Committee made a number of recommendations, many of which were sympathetic to his point of view, and some of which were implemented.

It is true that the report was published. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that the treaty was negotiated in secret and the text was only published two months later—a day before the Whitsun recess, I believe. Then, it was the subject of no more than 90 minutes’ scrutiny in the Committee.

Did the hon. Gentleman see the treaty before the report was published? I think not. The full text was published two months later.

In recent days, the Government have claimed in strong terms that the treaty is reciprocal—a claim repeated by the Prime Minister today. They say that the arrangements with the United States are, despite all appearances, reciprocal and equivalent. As my noble Friend Lord Goodhart said in another place last night:

“That is simply and totally incorrect.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 July 2006; Vol. 684, c. 630.]

Let me explain. Article 8 of the UK-US extradition treaty sets out the new procedures between the two countries. It states that the requesting country—either the United Kingdom or the United States—must provide

“a statement of the facts of the offense(s)”.

Then, in paragraph 3(c), an additional burden is placed on the United Kingdom when requesting an extradition from the United States. The provision requires:

“for requests to the United States”—

to the United States only—

“such information as would provide a reasonable basis to believe that the person sought committed the offense for which extradition is requested.”

That fulfils the now well known requirement for “probable cause” for extradition from the United States, in line with the terms of the US constitution. However, there is no requirement for any corresponding information for extradition from the United Kingdom.

Before the issue hit the headlines, the Government admitted that lack of reciprocity. In a Committee of the House on 15 December 2003, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), then a Home Office Minister, said:

“when we make extradition requests to the United States, we will need to submit sufficient evidence to establish ‘probable cause’.”

She acknowledged that that is a lower test than the previous prima facie standard, but added that it was

“a higher threshold than we ask of the United States, and I make no secret of that.”—[Official Report, Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 15 December 2003; c. 7.]

In another place, on 16 December last year, the noble Baroness Scotland repeated the same sentiment in almost identical terms.

Those admissions of two and a half years ago are in total contrast to the Prime Minister’s statement to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) last week, that

“it is not true that the United States has a different evidential burden from this country. The probable cause, which is the burden that the United States places on countries that want to extradite from the United States, is analogous to what we now provide under the Extradition Act 2003.”—[Official Report, 5 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 807.]

The Government cannot have it both ways. The treaty does, as I have explained, place different evidential burdens on the two parties. Either it is not reciprocal, as Ministers have repeatedly confirmed for months, or—miraculously—it is now reciprocal, in accordance with the Prime Minister’s pronouncements last week and today.

I want to understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. He is saying that the treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom is asymmetrical. Can he tell us which extradition treaties are exactly symmetrical?

I know of no other extradition treaty that is as asymmetric as that treaty. All the extradition treaties covered by the Extradition Act 2003, as the hon. Gentleman probably knows, are almost entirely reciprocal. That is why they are covered by the Council of Europe convention and the European arrest warrant, which are founded on a symmetrical relationship between the two parties.

Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) that the 1972 treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom was extremely balanced?

Indeed. For reasons that seem to have escaped the Prime Minister and other members of the Government, it was balanced between the burden of probable cause in the United States and the necessity for the US authorities to present prima facie evidence in British courts. At the time, that treaty was considered by all legal experts and Government Ministers to be balanced in its application.

I accept that the prima facie burden was slightly higher than probable cause, but we have wildly over-compensated by removing the prima facie burden altogether.

To return to the NatWest three, that case is not the be-all and end-all of this debate. It is the tip of the iceberg, and it has highlighted a wider problem—the Government signed a lopsided treaty that short-changes the interests of British citizens and people under our judicial protection. It may be the case, as the Prime Minister suggested today, that the extradited individuals could have been extradited under the terms of the 1972 treaty. It is perfectly possible that in initiating extradition proceedings against the NatWest three, the US authorities presented sufficient evidence to meet the higher hurdles under the 1972 treaty. The point is that we do not know, because under the new provisions, there is no cross-questioning or examination of the substantive evidence that they present. Much more importantly, they are not required to present the amount of evidence that could have been presented in the case of the NatWest three—a non-requirement that will apply to all future cases.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, but he was in the Chamber when the Prime Minister responded to the question from the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). The worry for the families of the NatWest three is that they will go to the United States and stay there for years and years before the case is concluded. Was the hon. Gentleman not reassured by the Prime Minister’s comments that there will be no opposition to an application for bail which, of course, will allow those three individuals to return to the United Kingdom?

The courts in Houston, Texas must determine bail terms—they are notoriously stringent—but, of course, we welcome any measures by the Government to facilitate the granting of bail to those three individuals.

The Government have got themselves into that sticky situation by eagerly enforcing our obligations under the treaty and failing to exert, until very late in the day, meaningful political pressure on the United States to do likewise. There is no excuse, however, for the mess in which we find ourselves. The Government repeatedly argue that, because we do not demand prima facie evidence from Council of Europe countries—Albania and Azerbaijan are the most salubrious examples in the long list of countries cited by the Government—we should not demand it from the US. Broadly, because the US is a “mature democracy” we should not have any qualms about extraditing British citizens there.

I should like to make three quick observations. First, as I mentioned, we have reciprocal agreements with those countries, but none of the arrangements have such wildly differing evidential burdens. Hence our support for the European arrest warrant which, as I said, is based on symmetry between the parties that entered into it, and is reciprocal between nations. The US-UK agreement, by contrast, is unique in its lopsided provisions. Secondly, Council of Europe countries are all signatories of the European convention on human rights, which is not binding on the United States. Any contravention of the ECHR by a Council of Europe state subsequent to extradition can be reviewed by the European Court of Human Rights, but such judicial review is not available to individuals extradited to the United States.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the human rights conditions were met in the various courts that those gentlemen have been through in this country. Is not that sufficient? Has not the hon. Gentleman been unduly influenced by a public relations campaign funded by multi-millionaires who have made a packet from selling shares in Enron?

As the hon. Lady must know, the courts merely heard the appeal against the application for extradition, which they could consider only in the limited terms of the 2003 Act. The courts have no power to second-guess an application made by the US authorities—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary has now said on several occasions that the US is not in Europe. I am well aware of that fact. However, he may need to reflect a little further on it, because we keep being told by the Prime Minister—and may be told by the Home Secretary and his Ministers—that there is no reason why we should not grant exactly the same provisions to the United States as to European countries. As I have explained, however, those arrangements were framed in the context of the ECHR, the conventions of the Council of Ministers and the legal terms of the European arrest warrant, which completely—legally and politically—sets the European examples apart from the US examples.

Why has the hon. Gentleman waited such a long time before raising all these questions—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said, those matters were covered in great detail—

Order. I am trying to help the hon. Lady. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) has given way, it would be a courtesy if he and his colleagues listened to what she has to say.

I am simply trying to say that on 22 November 2005, eight months ago, when a colleague of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) was present, the Select Committee on Home Affairs went into a great deal of detail on those questions with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), then the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. I have some sympathy with the questions that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam is putting, but they were all put eight months ago so why has he waited until now to raise them again?

I hazard the suggestion that even eight months ago it was too late; the decision was taken on 15 December 2003, by order, to enact our side of the extradition treaty with the United States. As the hon. Lady may know, the only Members who objected at that point—when the House could have stopped the process—were Liberal Democrats.

I want to refer to scale. The United States is by a long way our largest extradition partner. There are between 15 and 20 ongoing requests for extradition from the United States to the United Kingdom, and in 2005 13 people were extradited to the US—the highest number in five years and more than double the figure in 2003, just before the provisions of the bilateral treaty came into effect.

Given the sheer number of requests made by the US compared to other countries, and the fact that the US has increasing ambitions for extra-territorial prosecutions, it is vital that the treaty is fair to the British people. But events have already proved without doubt that it is not. Surely questions must be asked when Ian Norris, a former chief executive of Morgan Crucible, can be extradited for price-fixing, even though during the period he was alleged to have committed the offence it was not a criminal offence in the UK.

Will the hon. Gentleman underline the fact that one of the reasons why many Conservative Members supported the measure in the Chamber was that we thought it was to be used against potential terrorists? That is why there were grounds for passing the legislation; we did not expect the Government to encourage its use for purposes such as those we are discussing.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, although I am duty-bound to point out that it would have been helpful if he had listened to some of the arguments made from the Liberal Democrat Benches two years ago, which put the measure into a wider context. However, even if we consider the treaty only as part of the battle against terrorism, serious questions must be raised. For example, Lotfi Raissi, the Algerian pilot wrongly accused of training the 11 September hijackers, would have been extradited to the US under the provisions of the new treaty, but he was protected under the old one because the US could provide no evidence whatever that he was involved in the plot.

I realise that the hon. Gentleman is coming towards the end of his speech and that he has understandably and necessarily rested his arguments so far on issues relating to extradition and treaties, but does he share my concern about the impact on the confidence of people engaged in commercial relationships with the United States of America of what I consider an abuse of the treaty?

The impact on the confidence of the British business community in its dealings with the United States is very considerable indeed.

The case is not, as the Government would have us believe, merely a technical issue to be debated on legalistic points; it is causing serious consternation in the business community where fears of doing business in the US are increasing. I should be interested to learn from the Solicitor-General whether he agrees that the Chancellor’s City taskforce should consider the damage the case could do to our world-class financial services industry.

I need to make progress, as many Members want to speak on this important topic.

It is more than three years since the Government signed the extradition treaty with the United States, two and half years since the secondary legislation introducing that treaty was passed and less than 24 hours before the high-profile individuals who have brought such attention to the treaty will leave the country for a Texan jail. We should have debated the treaty years ago, but we did not have the chance, thanks to the Government’s continued disregard for the opinions of the House.

The treaty was negotiated in secret, signed by royal prerogative and announced merely in a written statement, offering the House no chance to question the Home Secretary on the wisdom of his actions. The text of the treaty was published two months later on 21 May 2003, as I mentioned earlier, the day before the Whitsun recess, thus reducing the chances of parliamentary scrutiny. The Extradition Act was piloted through the House by a junior Minister, with the Home Secretary making no comment on its progress. The secondary legislation was passed in a Committee that sat for barely 90 minutes.

Until the case started making daily headlines, the Government had made no attempt to persuade the United States to keep its end of the bargain and ratify the treaty; indeed, we know that as recently as March, during the US Secretary of State’s last visit to the UK, the Foreign Secretary did not even mention the issue. And the Government had to be forced, by Mr. Speaker’s decision, to come to the House today to hear this debate.

Much emphasis has been put on the Senate’s failure to ratify the treaty. Surely, we should be asking why we have no ratification process in this country similar to that enjoyed by the US Senate. Why is there no proper parliamentary scrutiny, and no written constitution to protect us from the Government’s willingness to hand away vital legal protections?

It is six years since the Wakeham Commission on Lords reform proposed proper parliamentary scrutiny of treaties in Parliament. The Government must take action. First, they should recognise the force of opinion among the public and in another place—where the Police and Justice Bill has been amended to repeal our part of the treaty—and revoke the 2003 order immediately so far as it applies to the USA. Next, the Government should renegotiate the 2003 treaty to make the extradition test reciprocal. Finally, they must introduce proper parliamentary scrutiny of treaties, and amend the royal prerogative so that international agreements can no longer be entered into without meaningful reference to the House.

To listen to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), we might think that the 2003 treaty had some relevance to whether the Enron three were extradited. In fact, if the treaty had been ratified it would have made not a blind bit of difference to whether the three were extradited.

Let us consider what the treaty would change if it was ratified. It would introduce a sentence threshold of 12 months for both sides and increase the number of offences covered, and temporary surrender would be allowed. In terms of the amount of proof required, it would change little. Indeed, in terms of the test, it would change nothing; the procedure would be changed but the actual test would not. As my noble and learned Friend Baroness Scotland made clear in another place yesterday, it would improve some of the procedures, but none of that would change anything for the Enron three.

Let me be clear: we want the treaty ratified, which is why Baroness Scotland will be going to the United States shortly to discuss with US Senators the need to ratify the treaty. We have the support of the White House. We need the support of the Senate.

My hon. and learned Friend has mentioned the test and the question whether it will be changed. Will he elaborate on the test for the House, because I understand that we are discussing a two-door test, rather than the over-simplification that we heard from the Liberal spokesman?

It is important to consider how the tests operate and how they operated in relation to Enron. As my hon. Friend has said, there is a double-door procedure in relation to extraditions from this country to the US and in the opposite direction—in effect, there is a door in the US courts and a door in the UK courts—and both those doors must be passed through in order to extradite someone either way. In order for us to apply to extradite someone from the US, we must issue a letter based on information from the UK, which is the first door, and we then have to show probable cause in a US court, which is the second door.

In order for the Enron three, for example, to be extradited from the UK, both doors must be passed through in the opposite direction. A grand jury must have a case shown to it that there was probable cause to issue an indictment in the United States, which is the first door. The second door is that a UK court must be satisfied that there was sufficient information to justify the issue of a warrant for arrest in this country, if the offence had been committed here. If a police officer were to apply for a warrant in front of a magistrate for an offence in this country, he would have to satisfy the magistrate that a criminal offence had taken place or that one was suspected to have taken place and that an identified person was suspected of having committed that offence.

The test is higher than mere suspicion, because in the US the phrase “probable cause” means that the person who is asking to arrest someone has a reasonable basis to believe that a crime has been committed and that that person committed the crime, which is more than reasonable suspicion. If we were to return to the pre-2003 situation, the US would have had to prove a prima facie case, which is a much higher test.

When the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary, there was an imbalance in the tests that were applied in different countries. That balance was enormously disadvantageous to the United States, the effect of which was that it sometimes took 30 months to extradite someone—one case took 10 years. How can he justify that?

I will deal with that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, I have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Why has the Solicitor-General used the wholly prejudicial description “the Enron three” in relation to those British subjects, when the company that they are accused of defrauding, NatWest, is British, and when the British authorities have decided to take no action in respect of acts committed in this country? Why has he engaged in that entirely prejudicial description of those British subjects?

It is interesting that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should rise at this point. We have heard Opposition Members say that we should return to the prima facie test, which predated the Extradition Act 2003, but let us see what the district judge, Judge Evans, said about the case:

“Although this case proceeds under the Extradition Act 2003, the request was prepared to meet the requirements of schedule 1 to the Extradition Act 1989.”—

a Conservative measure.

“There is therefore available affidavit evidence giving considerable factual detail of the allegations. As a matter of interest, that evidence makes a case to answer.”

The learned district judge took a clear view in relation to the prima facie case.

The Solicitor-General is in danger of making a very bad point. The major difference was that those who appeared in front of the district judge were not, under the new rules, allowed to examine or explore whether there was a prima facie case, because the new rules do not allow that to happen. So to argue that the material that was originally submitted might have been sufficient to establish the case does not answer the question that the Solicitor-General has posed to himself, because those who appeared in front of the district judge could not carry out any examination of that material.

The hon. Gentleman has made a bad point himself. The district judge took the view that so far as he was concerned

“that evidence makes a case to answer.”

Half a dozen hon. Members are trying to get me to give way, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to deal with the points that have been raised already. If the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) keeps his hair on, I will get to him, too.

The Enron three are to be extradited—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It must be wrong in principle to refer to those three people as “the Enron three”, because it is prejudicial to any trial that may take place. I ask you to intervene to stop it.

That is not a point of order for the Chair. That is a point of argument, which I have no doubt will continue in the course of the debate.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is offended by the description, which has been used by many in the media, then perhaps he is right. I shall refer to them as “the three individuals”, and I hope that that satisfies him.

Today’s debate seems to have been prompted by the pressing case of the NatWest three. Does my hon. and learned Friend know whether the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives ever protested about the case of Mr. Babar Ahmad, a UK-Asian heritage Muslim, as I did one year ago?

The Liberal Democrats must answer for themselves, and I will let them do so, but I had not heard any complaints from Opposition Members until this particular case.

If the Solicitor-General is persuaded by the view of the district judge that there was evidence against the NatWest three, will he explain why the Home Office is so resolute in refusing to set in motion a procedure that would allow them to be tried in this country, where the offence, if it took place, was committed?

I do not blame the Enron three for the substantial publicity campaign that they have generated in order to prevent their extradition, nor do I blame the hon. Gentleman, who has done a good job of defending his constituent. Like all accused, the three individuals are innocent until proved guilty, and they may well be acquitted. No one, least of all the Enron three, has claimed that there is no evidence against them. [Interruption.] They have been accused of very serious crimes. [Interruption.] The allegations have been reviewed—

Order. Mr. Speaker granted this debate because he regarded it as a matter of genuine urgency and because there was great concern throughout the country about the issue. It is right and proper that the matter should be discussed in a dignified and moderate manner, which is being impeded by too many interventions and sedentary comments.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The debate began with a discussion of the treaty, the imbalance in the treaty and the application of the treaty, but references have been made to the current cases which have caused so much concern. Quite properly, our proceedings are governed by a sub judice rule, and we do not normally debate the merits of individual criminal allegations or their handling in the courts. We are reaching the stage at which the language to describe the three suspects is being used to indicate on which side of the argument a particular hon. Member stands. I realise that the difficulty has arisen suddenly and taken you by surprise, but I suggest that the repeated use of such language, particularly by the Solicitor-General, is taking us dangerously near to inviting hon. Members to indicate by a thinly disguised formula their views on the merits of the case, which is presumably going to be tried.

Order. The House will have heard what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, but I am not aware of a case that is currently being tried in this country to which the sub judice rule would apply.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an important debate, and it is bound to be listened to in the United States. The fact that the Solicitor-General appears to be indicating by the language that he is using that he or the Government think that there is a strong case against these individuals will be prejudicial to those individuals. The Chair always has an ability to extend existing precedents. Mr. Speaker did so last week with regard to a question put to the Prime Minister about the Deputy Prime Minister. It would be perfectly proper for you to extend that rule to cover this situation.

Order. I have ruled on the question of sub judice. I think that what is of concern to some right hon. and hon. Members is the use of language, which is a matter of debate. I can only see it in that way.

If the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) had been listening, he would have heard me say that these three individuals are, like all accused people, innocent until proved guilty, and they may well be acquitted in a US court.

No. I have given way rather a lot, and I want to proceed with my argument and to deal with some of the points that have been raised.

When challenged in another place in relation to the term “Enron three”, my noble Friend Baroness Scotland quoted paragraph 66 of the High Court judgment, which states:

“Enron was deceived into parting with US $20,000,000.”

It is the description that is broadly used. If people are offended by it, I wish to make it clear that there is no indication that these men are anything other than innocent until proved guilty, like all persons who are accused.

The allegations in this case have been reviewed at length by our courts, which say that the three individuals should stand trial in the United States. The men want their trial to take place in the UK, if trial there is to be. In dismissing their case, the High Court found that their argument was wholly unsustainable and that the extradition was lawful and in accordance with their human rights. The Serious Fraud Office has declined to prosecute—

May I deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Henley?

The Serious Fraud Office has declined to prosecute the case in the United Kingdom for a range of reasons, including the fact that no complaint has been made in this country and because the main evidence, in the form of the alleged conspiracy and the witnesses, is in the United States, where the case is well advanced. That is where the alleged conspiracy took place. The three individuals are British citizens resident in the UK. They were employees of a UK bank responsible for a number of bank clients, including a subsidiary of Enron in the United States. Enron’s headquarters are in Houston, Texas. [Interruption.] They were in Houston, Texas. Its bank had offices there, as well as in London. Some of the key witnesses, including Mr. Michael Kopper, the managing director at Enron, and Mr. Andrew Fastow, Enron’s chief financial director, are in the United States.

A crucial meeting is alleged to have taken place in Houston on 22 February, attended by the defendants, which US lawyers say played a central part in the case. The US prosecution alleges that it was a secret meeting with Enron’s chief financial officer, Mr. Andrew Fastow. The allegation is that the three individuals had access to information that enabled them to let their bank undertake certain financial transactions.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment; let me put my argument first.

I will not go into the list of transactions, which are complex, but the prosecution alleges that the defendants conspired with US co-conspirators to deceive Enron into parting with $20 million, and that both Enron and NatWest were defrauded. It is alleged that the defendants got $7.3 million, which derived from Enron and represented the sale of the bank’s interest in a company called Swap Sub.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished these points, as I know that he is concerned about this issue in relation to his constituent.

On 14 January 2004, Mr. Fastow pleaded guilty on two counts, including conspiracy to wire fraud. There was also a plea agreement entered into with Mr. Kopper. In this, it became clear that allegations had been made, including this claim by Mr. Fastow:

“In…February 2000, I and others, including three bankers employed by NatWest, participated in a scheme to extract…increased value by defrauding Enron and NatWest.

Enron paid $30 million for the Swap Sub buyout. That price was based on my misleading representation to Enron that the limited partners of Swap Sub had agreed to sell their interests in Swap Sub for $20 million and $10 million, respectively. In fact, NatWest had agreed to sell its interest for only $1 million, not $20 million. I knew that the NatWest bankers induced NatWest to sell its interests in Swap Sub for $1 million at a time they knew the interest was worth significantly more.”

In summary, the SFO took the view that the case involved an allegation that UK-based employees conspired with US Enron executives. The main evidence was in the USA—that is, the co-conspirators. As the conspiracy took place there, no complaint has been received in the United Kingdom. The fraud could not have occurred without the complicity of the Enron executives, some of whom were key witnesses. The case was well advanced in the USA, and it was thought that in the overall interests of justice it would be best dealt with by one court in the USA.

Mr. Justice Evans made a very important point that I want to put to the hon. Member for Henley:

“The reality is that were the SFO to commence an investigation, then, by the time they were ready to launch a prosecution, there would be defence submissions inviting the court to stay the prosecution as an abuse because of what by then would be considerable delay. Additionally and crucially, Kopper and Fastow are important witnesses for the prosecution. They are readily available to give evidence in the States and not in the UK.”

Nothing that the Solicitor-General has said contradicts the central fact that these are UK citizens who, if they committed any crime, committed it against a UK company in the UK. Everything that he has said is completely irrelevant next to the central point that under American jurisdiction they would be able to challenge in an American court the stream of allegations that he has made against them before they were extradited to this country. Under the arrangements that his Government have entered into, it is not possible for them to have the allegations that he has made in this House tested before a court in this country before they are sent for trial in America. That is the point of this debate.

The point of this debate is to deal with the issue of whether there is an imbalance between the various requirements of the treaty and the Extradition Act 2003. When the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam put his case, he seemed to be arguing about the Act, not the treaty. The Act enables people against whom there is a reasonable suspicion of having committed serious offences imprisonable for more than one year to be extradited to another country. The Liberal Democrats seem to want to suspend that provision in relation to the United States in particular.

It will be interesting to discover what the Conservative position is. Yesterday, we had the bizarre situation whereby Baroness Thatcher went into the Lobby in another place to vote to deny to the United States the sort of provisions that are currently available to Russia, Azerbaijan, Albania and a whole range of other countries with which we have a similar provisions.

Perhaps the Solicitor-General could take this opportunity to clarify a matter around which there is a degree of muddle. We talk about part 2 territories, which include the United States and Russia. Will the Solicitor-General identify which part 2 territories have been given special privileges under section 84(7) of the 2003 Act, which enables extradition to take place without the submission of prima facie evidence?

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we are applying a similar test to the United States as we apply to a range of other countries, including South Africa, Azerbaijan, Russia, Australia and New Zealand. Is he seriously saying, on behalf of the Conservative Opposition, that the US legal system has inadequate safeguards for defendants and cannot be trusted to deal properly with cases such as these, compared with a whole range of other countries from Russia to Albania? If the Conservative Opposition are getting themselves into that position, they are digging a very deep hole indeed.

Let me make my point, then I will give way.

I remember that when the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe was Leader of the Opposition, he managed to become involved in something of a fracas with the United States. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam asked whether we should be concerned that our economy could be affected by damaging our relationship with the United States. It is important that we have a relationship with the United States that pays respect to a legal system that may have diverged from ours to some extent 200 years ago, but which still has substantial safeguards for defendants in its courts. We should respect that. Some might decide not to do so, and if the Conservatives decide to put themselves in the position of saying that the US courts cannot be trusted, they are going to get themselves into a very difficult position.

The answer to the entirely spurious point that the Solicitor-General is making is that the arrangements that we have with all the other countries to which he has referred are entirely reciprocal. The objection that is being made from this side of the House to our arrangements with the United States is, as Baroness Scotland acknowledged in another place in December 2003, that they are not reciprocal. That is the key question; that is the distinction. Why does the Solicitor-General keep referring to those other countries in this thoroughly misleading way?

The United States has always required extradition on the basis of probable cause. Indeed, under its Bill of Rights, all criminal cases are determined in that way. The probable cause requirement is an evidential test that is enshrined in its Bill of Rights. The United States is not going to change that requirement, and we are not going to ask it to. Parliament has decided—correctly, in my view—that a probable cause standard of evidence, involving

“information which would justify the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person”,

should be required of countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and others. Parliament considered the extradition treaty and ensured that it had robust safeguards against unfairness, to protect individuals. Those safeguards were dealt with in the courts. There was a lengthy process that dealt with the three individuals, who were able to go before the court and argue their case.

Individuals may only be extradited for conduct that is also criminal in the UK. This is a dual criminality test which has to be established before a district judge in the UK and can be challenged on appeal.

I am most grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I am following his arguments closely. What concerns the public and the families of the accused—whether we call them the Enron three or the NatWest three—is the issue of bail. They will be travelling all the way to the United States and staying there for months, or possibly years. We heard from the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions that the Attorney-General had spoken to the United States Justice Department. What new information does the Solicitor-General have for the House that will reassure the public and the families of those concerned that the three might be granted bail?

I can tell my hon. Friend that discussions have taken place between our Attorney-General and the United States Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, who has indicated that the US prosecution will not oppose bail. It will of course be a matter for the court to set the appropriate conditions, and it will be a matter for the defendants to agree to those conditions. I hope that that will provide some reassurance.

No, I have taken a lot of interventions. I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, who is a close neighbour of mine, but I have now been speaking for 25 minutes without managing to reach some of the core arguments that I want to put before the House.

No, I will not give way. I respect the hon. Gentleman and I apologise to him, but I must make some progress. I do not propose to stay on my feet for much longer, as there are many others who wish to speak in the debate.

The first myth is that the Extradition Act 2003 is intended solely to deal with terrorists. We heard that from Conservative Back Benchers. In fact, the Act covers all manner of crimes serious enough to attract a maximum sentence of more than 12 months’ imprisonment. That was clear throughout the passage of the legislation. It was not drafted in response to 9/11, as has also been suggested. Its origins lay in the early development of the European arrest warrant in 1999, and it was intended to update an extradition system that dated back to Gladstonian times. The Home Office published a review in March 2001—I emphasise the month, because it was well before September—to set out the basics of what was to become the Act. Although much was made of fraud cases, the majority of cases brought under the Act are likely to include murder, rape, drugs, money laundering, child pornography and robbery. It will also help to extradite people accused of terrorism, but the basis of the Act predates 9/11 and it is a myth that that is not the case.

A further myth is that the US needs to provide us with more information when making a request. Indeed, I heard the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam on Radio 4 this morning saying that the US needed only to prove the identity and whereabouts of a defendant, and not much else. That is not the case. In order to meet our information requirement, the United States needs to supply information that will provide a reasonable basis to believe that the person sought has committed the offence for which extradition is being requested. Based on the evidence that the courts have heard, it has achieved that in the case of these three individuals.

I will not give way. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am trying to make some progress.

Would the United States have been able to prove a case to the higher standard of a prima facie case? We have already heard the district judge take that view.

I appreciate that the Solicitor-General is dealing particularly with the case of Mr. Bermingham, Mr. Darby and Mr. Mulgrew, but will he confirm that other extradition cases are pending? Because those cases post-date the implementation of the 2003 Act, the kind of material that establishes a prima facie case is simply not being delivered. In the Morgan Crucible case, for example, the documents are very scanty indeed, yet they are still sufficient to give a basis for extradition.

Exact reciprocity between different legal systems is probably impossible. The US and UK legal systems diverged 200 years ago, and it is our view that probable cause and the UK’s information requirement are the nearest rough and ready parity that we are reasonably likely to be able to achieve in any reasonable circumstances. It is clear that the arrangements that existed before the Extradition Act 2003 were grossly unfair to the United States, because they required a much higher level of proof to extradite someone from the UK to the United States than the other way round. It often took 30 months to extradite someone. In one case, it took 10 years. The US system of probable cause is a lower test, and those we seek to extradite are normally removed to this country within about five months. We do not want to go back to a situation—as Opposition Members seem to want to—in which it takes 10 years to extradite someone.

We have modernised our extradition system to recognise the nature of global crime, and we do not want to send it back to the Victorian era. Exact reciprocity between two legal systems is almost impossible to achieve. We have been asked to look at the particular question of reciprocity many times since it was first raised during the passage of the 2003 Act, when we thought that probable cause might be a slightly higher test than others. We have gone into that in great detail. We have discussed the matter with the US, and we are entirely satisfied that it interprets the phrase that I have just used—such information as would provide a reasonable basis to believe that a person sought to commit the offence for which that extradition is requested—in a way that is broadly equivalent to our approach. That is our view, and I hope that Opposition Members will accept that there is such a view—that although the approaches are not entirely equivalent, they are broadly so, in a rough and ready manner. It may well be the case that probable cause is a slightly higher test than information, but we must remember that there is a two-door scenario going both ways. The test has to be proved to a probable-cause standard going both ways; that test is in the US courts. What we want is the treaty ratified, in order to ensure that other procedural benefits are put in place to make those whole procedures much faster and to ensure that we are able to extradite those persons who ought properly to be extradited.

The three individuals in this case face very serious allegations. Their case has been reviewed at length in the UK courts. It is a myth that this matter is all about events in the UK alone; that is pure myth. They are innocent until proved guilty, as are all accused. But we must remember that Enron was the biggest fraud in US history, and the US authorities are very concerned about any issues relating to it. The balance in the test for extradition that exists between the two countries is not identical but it is very similar. We believe that the treaty that we have entered into is the right one, and we also believe that about the Extradition Act 2003.

That Act is the real focus, not the treaty. This debate is all about that Act; it is about whether an Act that this House passed—that this House voted for—is the right Act. Those Opposition Members who will shortly speak need to decide what their position is on that; they were prepared to acknowledge the importance of dealing with these issues on a previous occasion, but are they still prepared to do so, or are they going to put themselves on course for another confrontation with the United States?

What we need is fairness. We have a broad level of fairness in the Extradition Act. We want to ensure that we keep that level of fairness, and that the Acts of Parliament passed by this House—Acts which were the right ones when they were passed, and which are the right ones now—are the Acts on which our courts are able fairly to decide cases.

I am sorry that those of us attending this debate on such a serious issue—which was fairly opened by the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg)—should have been treated in the Solicitor-General’s response to a strange mixture of polemic and crude defence of the Government’s position in a particular case, although I have some sympathy with the Government on the issues of that particular case, as I shall make clear. Only at the very end of his speech was he prepared to start to deal with some of the underlying issues involving the UK-US extradition treaty and, as he rightly said, the proper operation of the Extradition Act 2003, which ought to be of concern to this House because, as often happens when we pass legislation, we can end up with the law of unintended consequences.

The Solicitor-General has given the impression that the current media anxiety—which is clearly shared by the public, if the volume of e-mails that I have been receiving is anything to go by—is in some way manufactured, and, indeed, that it was suggested by a public relations agency. I rather doubt that that is the case. It seems to me that the events that have surrounded the extradition of Mr. Bermingham, Mr. Darby and Mr. Mulgrew to the United States have exposed misgivings on the part of the public about how the extradition arrangements between us and the US are operating. That must be a legitimate topic of debate in this House; it is what we are here to do. If we indeed made a mistake in respect of the Extradition Act 2003 three years ago, or in respect of our treaty with the United States, it is high time that we considered those issues.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), and by many others, first that there should only be implementation of a treaty to which we are a signatory when the other signatory also implements the treaty, so that there is reciprocity in respect of it coming into effect, and secondly that all such treaties should be subjected to proper parliamentary scrutiny before they are signed on behalf of the United Kingdom Government?