Baroness Williams of Trafford
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords across the House for their very good contributions to this debate. We should not forget that without this new power a potentially dangerous individual encountered by the police, whom they establish is a fugitive, might remain at liberty on UK streets, able to offend or abscond before they can be arrested. I can confirm that in both the cases I voiced today the individuals were encountered by chance; the police did not have the power to arrest them and had to let them go.
I am sure everyone in this House will agree that we should unite across parties to give the police the power they need to protect the public, while always ensuring that the appropriate safeguards are in place. My noble friend Lord King and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, described in great clarity not only the changing face of crime and the huge demands on the police but the international aspect of crime in all its forms.
Several noble Lords have voiced concerns that this Bill is an attempt by the Government to replicate the capability of the EAW. As I hope I have explained, this is not the case. The new power is about only how wanted individuals enter the court system, not how the courts will conduct their extradition proceedings. I emphasise that, with or without access to the EAW, UK police officers are unable immediately to arrest these fugitives wanted by countries outside the EU without first going to the court for a warrant.
The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, rightly raised the future of the EAW post transition period. The UK will approach the negotiations on these issues with practicality and pragmatism. The political declaration calls for practical operational co-operation, data-driven law enforcement and multilateral co-operation through EU agencies. The detail of this agreement will be a matter for negotiation, but it does not just apply to the EAW. It applies to several other instruments of the EU. I absolutely acknowledge his concern.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked whether the EAW would continue to be enforced during the transition period; they talked specifically about Germany, Slovenia and Austria. It applies during the transition period, but where a member state cannot for reasons related to the principles of their national law surrender an own national to the UK during the transition period, they will be expected—as they have been—to take over the trial or sentence of the person concerned. UK policing and courts have extensive experience of working with these countries to ensure that justice is carried out. By way of background, since 2009 five German nationals, one Austrian national and no Slovenian nationals have been extradited to the UK from those countries. We are well used to the situation. It is nothing to do with this Bill. The power of provisional arrest is for Part 2 non-EU countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked about replacing other aspects of the EAW. He asked whether the power will replicate other aspects of capability from the EAW such as the expedited extradition process. It will not. This new power is similar to the EAW only in so far as it provides for an immediate power of arrest. It does not change the subsequent extradition proceedings or the role of the Home Secretary in extraditions, which are dealt with under Part 2 of the Extradition Act. The person who has been arrested must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest—although I take the point of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Clark, that if it happens on a Saturday night it might be a bit more than that—and the subsequent extradition process remains as it exists now.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater asked two equal and opposite questions: why now, and why not before now? Interpol data is now routinely uploaded to UK systems to make it available to front-line law enforcement officers. This means that the UK police might encounter an individual who, by performing a simple database check, they can see is wanted for a serious crime abroad. That was not previously the case. As I said, within the current system, the police are unable to arrest the individual immediately. There is an obvious gap, we have responded to that with the Bill, and Interpol is now available to front-line police.
A couple of noble Lords asked about reciprocity. Why is the power being extended to cover countries that will not arrest on the basis of an Interpol notice issued in the UK? Why is there not a reciprocal arrangement? We need to be clear that under the Bill we are creating powers for the UK police, not obligations to the countries concerned. The Bill will enable UK police officers to protect the public more effectively. It is about ensuring that UK police officers have the power to remove dangerous individuals from our streets before they can abscond or offend, not about bringing more wanted individuals back to the UK from other countries. Were this new power restricted to operating on a reciprocal basis, police officers could be put in a situation of encountering a dangerous individual on the street but being unable to arrest them due to the legal provisions of another country, and that does not make any sense.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked what safeguards there are to show what steps the NCA has taken. It is a requirement of the Bill that the NCA issues a certificate setting out the category 2 territory, confirms that it is a valid request, certifies that it has reasonable grounds for believing that the offence is a serious extradition offence, and that the conduct is sufficiently serious that the certificate must be given to the arrested person as soon as is practicable after that arrest. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about sentences such as 10 years for theft. In fact, this not only applies to prison sentences of at least three years but, as I said, it applies to sufficiently serious offences. Offences such as stealing a bike or shoplifting would not satisfy that second point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about human rights considerations. It is right that noble Lords interrogate this point, but the Bill is purely about shifting the point at which the police can intervene and arrest a wanted person. It in no way reduces the safeguards that must apply to any subsequent extradition proceedings considered by the court or the Home Secretary. Judicial oversight will continue as it does now after any arrest. The courts will continue to assess extradition requests as they do now, to determine, for example, whether extradition would be compatible with the individual’s human rights or whether the person would receive a fair trial. If they would not do so, extradition would be barred. That would include things such as the prison conditions that they might face and of course the death penalty, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked about the triage process. First, it applies only to specified countries; countries with a poor human rights record are not in scope. The addition of any other country will require the consent of both Houses of Parliament. Secondly, it applies only to sufficiently serious offences; the power will be available only in relation to offences that would be criminal in the UK and for which an offender could receive a prison sentence of at least three years.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Clark of Calton, my noble friend Lord Inglewood and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked whether we already have the power to get an emergency warrant in urgent cases under the current mechanism for provisional warrants—basically, do we not already have the correct provisions in place? Crucially, however, under the current mechanism the police must already be aware that the individual is in the UK. It is not relevant here, as this legislation is concerned with chance encounters. The Bill creates an additional, different mechanism, which deals with these chance cases.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Clark of Calton, my noble friend Lord Inglewood and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, interrogated again the necessity for the Bill because of the numbers that might be involved. Obviously, it is a new power, so there is no accurate way to predict how many people it will apply to, and there is no quota, which makes this the right thing to do for security and public safety. It is about ensuring that UK police officers have the power to arrest dangerous individuals whenever they come across them on the street, to prevent them offending or absconding. However, I am clear today, as I was yesterday, that one dangerous fugitive on the streets of the UK whom we cannot arrest is one too many.
On some of the figures we have now, as of 31 December last year, over 4,000 Interpol alerts were in circulation from the countries specified in the Bill. Not all will be for fugitives in the UK, and not all will meet the seriousness criteria for this new arrest power. However, they include requests relating to terrorism, rape and murder, and if any of these wanted fugitives enter the UK or are encountered by police on UK streets, the police would not currently be able to arrest the individual. One dangerous fugitive is one too many.
The other question about necessity relates to the point made by my noble friend Lord King, which I echoed, on the international nature of crime now.
The number six in the impact assessment has been interrogated widely. It is not an indication of the number of dangerous individuals who would be arrested under this power; it is an analysis to assess the economic impact on the wider system. It is not a prediction of arrest numbers; that is to misunderstand the analysis. We cannot quantify how many opportunities to arrest dangerous fugitives have been missed because they have been missed. We can quantify the 4,000 Interpol alerts currently on the UK systems from specified countries; of course, the police would not have powers to arrest without the Bill.