Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mr Davies. I also add my belated good wishes for St David’s day, as a fellow Welsh Member of Parliament.
The Opposition do not oppose the statutory instrument. It is in the public interest to have appropriate extradition arrangements in place with as many countries as possible. It reduces the number of safe spaces there are in the world where those who harm us can hide, escape to and get beyond the reach of our law enforcement.
However, I have a number of points about these proposals, which I hope the Minister will be able to deal with in replying at the end of this short debate. I will begin with the addition of Norway and Iceland. As the Minister set out, Norway and Iceland already have an extradition agreement with the European Union, as set out in the surrender agreement, which came into force in early November last year. The aim of the agreement was to speed up the transfer of suspected and convicted persons and to ensure sufficient controls on the execution of arrest warrants. The aim, if I may say so, is very similar to the current structure of the European arrest warrant.
Now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union and is in the transition period, it is right that Norway and Iceland should be incorporated into our current extradition process, and the Opposition of course support that principle. I would, however, be grateful if the Minister could give further clarity on the future security relationship in this regard with the European Union.
On Thursday, the Government published their negotiating mandate with the European Union, and today both parties sit down to start negotiations. I was alarmed by point 51:
“The UK is not seeking to participate in the European Arrest Warrant as part of the future relationship. The agreement should instead provide for fast-track extradition arrangements, based on the EU’s Surrender Agreement with Norway and Iceland which came into force in 2019, but with appropriate further safeguards for individuals beyond those in the European Arrest Warrant.”
Over the past few years in this role, I have argued for the Government to take the future security partnership extremely seriously. The European arrest warrant has proven to be an incredibly useful tool for fighting and preventing crime. In 2017-18, the last year for which there are statistics, 17,256 requests were made by UK law enforcement or EU counterparts, and the EU made 296 requests to UK law enforcement.
As we pass this arrangement today—if the Committee is minded to do so—can the Minister set out how the Government will create a structure similar to the European arrest warrant by the end of December this year? If they fail to have a future trade agreement in place, how will he assure UK law enforcement and UK citizens that the law in relation to some of the most serious criminals will not simply lapse? Stronger action is required, and I hope the Minister will give an assurance that he will be lobbying ministerial colleagues on how important this issue is.
I now turn to the addition of Kuwait and Morocco in part 2 of this statutory instrument. Both these countries are listed as category 2 countries; in other words, they still carry the death penalty. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2017, Kuwait carried out seven executions, the first since 2013, including of two Kuwaiti nationals, a member of the royal family, a woman from the Philippines, two Egyptian men and a Bangladeshi man. Similarly, three men were sentenced to death in Morocco in July 2019, although it is not clear whether the penalties have been carried out. The Labour party stands totally against the use of the death penalty. I understand the Government’s position is the same. However, it is important that there are reassurances today in that regard.
The treaty with Kuwait sets out that an extradition could be blocked
“if the Requested Party has serious grounds for believing that the request for extradition has been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on account of that person’s race, religion, nationality, sex or status, or political opinions, or that that person’s position may be prejudiced or his or her liberty restricted for any of those reasons”.
I am sure the Minister will share the view that there are worrying aspects of the Kuwaiti penal code—for example, article 193, which outlaws same-sex relations and carries a maximum prison sentence of up to seven years, and which also criminalises forms of gender expression.
I note that the Kuwaiti extradition treaty gives a carve-out if extradition would breach the human rights of the person sought, and of course there are safeguards that already exist in the extradition process. However, there remain concerns about the judicial system in Kuwait. In 2018, Lord Collins of Highbury took part in a debate about that extradition treaty with Kuwait, and the then Government Minister, Baroness Goldie, stated:
“This Government are committed to upholding human rights and oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. The safeguards available in the Extradition Act are strong and reliable in that respect. Extradition from the UK is not possible if it would be incompatible with a person’s human rights. The Home Secretary must not, in law, order an individual’s extradition if they have been, will be or could be sentenced to death.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 October 2018; Vol. 793, c. 1286.]
I would be grateful if the Minister could repeat that assurance today.
There are also some wider issues about not just the criminal penalties that exist in Kuwait but the very nature of the system. Human Rights Watch has raised concerns that it is difficult for defendants to get a fair trial. With our proud tradition of an independent judiciary and the rule of law, I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me that, when considering cases under this treaty, there will be an emphasis on those who are extradited receiving due process and a fair trial, irrespective of what the penalty for that particular offence is.
Although the Opposition support the statutory instrument and the principle of having extradition treaties in place, I would at the same time be grateful for the Minister’s response to the observations I have made.