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European Arrest Warrant

Volume 756: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that the United Kingdom is able to opt back into the European Arrest Warrant.

My Lords, the Government are close to agreeing a package of 35 measures with the European Commission and other member states that the UK will seek to join in the national interest. That package includes the reformed arrest warrant, with increased domestic powers to block arrest warrants where the offence is disproportionately minor or where the relevant conduct that occurred in the UK is not a crime. The discussions continue in Brussels.

Given that nearly 100 foreign criminals are removed from this country under the European arrest warrant every month, can the Minister give us a guarantee that we will have opted back in by 1 December? When will this be put to the House of Commons? When it is, because of the level of opposition to the European arrest warrant by the Taliban majority of the Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party, will the Government be relying on Labour votes for us to opt in, in the national interest?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point to the importance of this; 5,000 foreign criminals have been deported since it came into effect in 2009. Of course the desire is to opt back in by 1 December, but this needs to be negotiated and there need to be agreements. Those negotiations are continuing. Her Majesty’s Government’s position is that we want to be there by 1 December. In terms of when the House will have the opportunity to discuss this, discussions are ongoing between the business managers to make time for that to happen before 20 November.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the only people who gain from our non-membership of the European arrest warrant arrangements are fraudsters, child molesters and gangs? Should we not say that this is another example of the excellent reasons why we should be full and really committed members of the European Union?

My noble friend is absolutely right in respect of these measures. To keep a balance, though, let us remember that being part of the European Union is not just about signing up to everything that comes down the track. With regard to justice and home affairs, there were 135 measures in the package, 100 of which we did not feel passed the test regarding our national interest. However, 35 did and those are what we want to rejoin.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that committees of this House have heard overwhelming evidence from law enforcement agencies from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the Republic of Ireland, of the wholly invaluable role that the European arrest warrant plays in the war against serious crime? Does he also accept that, although there are minor infractions that can so easily be put right, it would be a severe blow to the administration of justice if, for any reason—particularly in relation to any tactical or political consideration—the European arrest warrant were to be prejudiced in any way?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. That is why the Government are bringing this forward and seeking urgent agreement on it.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the comments in the letter from the Irish Government expressing their concern that if there is any gap between the Government opting out of the international arrest warrant and opting back in again, that will have serious implications for arresting those involved in terrorism. What response have the Government made to this, and what discussions have they had with other countries which may be expressing similar concerns?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is why we want to ensure that there will be no gap in respect of this, and I am confident that there will not be. Only one country out of the 22 with which we are currently in bilateral negotiations has a concern about this. We believe that that concern can be overcome within a matter of days.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that there are serious concerns about the principle of British citizens being arrested on British soil and sent into the custody of foreign judicial systems, where there is no democratic control by other British citizens, without a chance for British courts and British justice systems to take a view on it? Will my noble friend assure us that this House will have a full opportunity to debate and vote on this proposal before it is taken forward?

We will certainly have that debate and vote. That was one of the important safeguards we negotiated that have been introduced: to say that a crime must be a crime in this country as well as in the country to which the extradition has been sought for a warrant to be agreed to.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that European arrest warrants are a two-way process, and that should the Government fail to renegotiate an entry back into the European arrest warrant system for Britain, then the criminals of Europe would know that and what used to be called the “costa del crime” would arrive on the shores of Britain?

My Lords, I am sure that the representatives of the Spanish Government, with whom we are negotiating bilaterally, will of course have noted the noble Lord’s comments carefully.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree with Sir Hugh Orde, the president of ACPO, when he said that the European arrest warrant,

“gives us a stronger, more effective means of arresting dangerous criminals across borders and thus keeping our communities safe at home—it is not an instrument which we can afford to lose”?

My noble friend is absolutely right. I agree with ACPO in respect of this and of course the European affairs committee, the security services and the law enforcement services, whose views the Government have listened to and acted upon.

My Lords, will the Minister say if the Government are willing to reconsider their opt-out from the measure on xenophobia and racism? I think that to opt out of this measure portrays the United Kingdom in a very bad light and sends a very bad signal.

I will write to the noble Lord on that. He is right to raise concerns about it and I will make sure that he gets an absolutely accurate and speedy reply.