UK parliament Committee refuses to scrutinise agreements in secret, UK agrees new treaty with USA on extradition, UK and USA prepare for "simultaneous attacks"

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In addition to the controversy over the proposed EU-USA agreement on extradition and mutual legal assistance a series of other developments on EU and UK cooperation with the USA have taken place in the last few days - see the three stories below. Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"We have the extraordinary situation that the UK parliament is expected to scrutinise the proposed EU-USA agreements in secret, out of public view, while the French and possibly the German parliaments will have an open debate on the issues. At the same time the UK government has reached an agreement with the USA on extradition which pre-empts a unified EU position.

While in the background the UK and the USA have agreed to cooperate to counter simultaneous attacks on their countries in the "war against terrorism" as a result of the war on Iraq"

Select Committee on the European Union rejects Home Office demand that the EU-USA agreements be scrutinised in camera - "There could be no free and open debate on the issues"

Lord Grenfell, the chair of the Select Committee on the European Union in the House of Lords, has rejected a request by Home Office Minister, Bob Ainsworth, that the committee conduct their scrutiny duties on the proposed EU-US agreements (on extradition and mutual legal assistance) in secret ("in camera"). On 24 March Lord Grenfell requested copies of the agreements for parliamentary scrutiny but in reply (27 March) the Home Office supplied copies but said these had to be treated "in confidence". By a letter of 3 April Lord Grenfell responded that:

"we cannot agree to proceeding in the way you propose in your letter... You have suggested that Sub-Committee E should examine the documents in camera. We would not be allowed to take views of experts and other interested parties. We would only be able to meet and discuss the matter with you and your officials in private. Seemingly we would not be able to publish correspondence or a Report which disclosed the contents of the Agreements. We would not be able to show the documents to other Members of this house. There could be no free and open debate of the issues"

The Home Office Minister admits that, "at least one Member State has already provided this text to its parliament" (this is France and Germany is expected to follow in consulting its parliament) but insists that because it is classified as "EU Confidential" it must remain secret. Lord Grenfell replied: "Your letter offers no explanation as to why the documents.. should remain classified as "confidential"" as they affect "the fundamental rights of citizens not only of this country but of all EU countries".

Lord Grenfell further says that the procedure proposed by the Home Office Minister:

"raises issues of substantial constitutional significance both for the Union and the UK"

The Committee, he says, stands ready to carry out its normal scrutiny role but: "in the present circumstances, we cannot move".

Note: The Home Office Minister's response of 27 March presents a confusing picture because he speaks of an "unclassified draft Council Decision authorising the Presidency to sign the Agreements in due course.. It will not however be accompanied by the text of the Agreements". This in fact is the normal practice of the Council of the European Union, the actual text of international agreements such as these and readmission agreements with third country is not publicly released until they have been signed. Only a quite formal, and uninformative, document is made public which simply "authorises" an agreement to be signed. The text is thus kept secret until it is signed when parliaments and people alike can effect no changes.

Background documentation

1. Letter from Home Office Minister, Bob Ainsworth, to Select Committee on the European

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