CAMPAIGNING TO BRING HIGH SPEED BROADBAND TO ORPINGTON
I am delighted that Orpington, Biggin Hill and Farnborough have been included in BT’s multi-billion pound investment in super-fast broadband for the UK. BT has announced that it hopes to complete the fibre upgrade in these towns by August 2011, with initial top speeds of up to 40Mps. Since elected, I have been campaigning for this, and Councillor Russell Jackson and I have met with BT to promote the constituency of Orpington.
Digital inclusion is absolutely critical so that all sectors of society can enjoy the benefits broadband has to offer, whether it is running businesses from home, engaging in social outreach or making cheap long distance calls. This will make a real change to people’s lives, both at home and at work. I consider it absolutely essential that the UK stays at the forefront of internet technology.
In the coming months, I will be campaigning in Parliament for a review of the 2003 Extradition act. The current system, put in place by the last Government, has left behind a truly rotten system. As we have seen with the case of Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon, the extradition regime with the US acts like a robotic, mindless catapult that flings people across the Atlantic, at the whim of US Homeland Security.
The main problem is that the Treaty is grossly one-sided. The 2003 Act removed the need for certain countries requesting extradition to demonstrate there was a case to answer. This applied to all EU countries and 24 others, including the US. However, the US did not reciprocate: while the American prosecution needs only to provide summary ‘information’, rather than ‘evidence’, to trigger arrest warrants and extradition proceedings – the UK is unable to extradite US citizens without prima facie evidence. Reciprocity is an important principle. If the US believes in the constitutional principle that Americans cannot be extradited without evidence, it should not expect us to do just that. In this respect, we are truly the junior partner.
Leaving aside the issue of reciprocity, there is also the issue that non-residents are unlikely to get bail and could spend years in prison pending trial. Furthermore, pressure to engage in plea bargaining is endemic in the US, and long sentences are a real incentive for the innocent to plead guilty.
A further problem with the Treaty is that the Act does not permit a UK court to refuse to extradite someone even if the offence took place in the UK. This has left people such as Gary McKinnon, and my constituent Chris Tappin, at risk of being extradited abroad, even though they are accused of committing their alleged crimes while in the UK. The immediate introduction of an amendment to the 2003 Extradition Act, stating that extradition could be denied if the crime was committed in the UK, would make this far less likely. Such an amendment was passed in 2006, but the previous Government refused to let it come into force.
The law therefore is brutal in cases such as Gary McKinnon’s, who has Aspergers. And it is cruel to the likes of Chris Tappin, the primary carer for his wife of 37 years, who suffers from Churg-Strauss Vasculitis. Gary McKinnon's case and Chris Tappin’s case are high-profile ones, but a number of other UK citizens are also in similar positions and are currently awaiting their fate.
We now have a new government that has promised a review of the 2003 Extradition Act and the US/UK Extradition Treaty to “make sure it is even handed”. This starts next month and ends in September 2011. I await the terms of reference for this review with great interest and will be pressing the Home Secretary to take this opportunity to make this flawed extradition law fairer for the people of this country.