...the swoop on Levy perfectly illustrates the decay of the Government and the putrefaction of the honours system
It is as though we don't do white-collar fraud, except when it involves peerages, and we contract the big stuff to our American overlords
Arrest Lord Levy! Arrest Blair! Arrest the lot of them
Let me begin by saying that I have no objection at all to the decision to arrest Lord Levy. I am sure I speak for millions when I say that it is high time that the fuzz moved in on the Blairite high command, and they might as well start with his tennis partner. As far as I am concerned, the whole lot of them deserve to have their collars felt. If the cops decide to launch dawn raids on all the other arch-toadies of the regime, they will find many of us prepared to hold their coats.
Winkle Mandy from his lair! Arrest Alastair Campbell and haul him out from under whatever stone now conceals him. Let's nick them all, sarge! Go, boys, go! And if Sir Ian Blair decides to haul his namesake in, I am not going to stand in his way.
What joy it must be for the cops - and yet what an amazing spectacle we must present to the world outside. Here is the Prime Minister's chief financial fixer being hauled in for questioning about a suspected crime that is quintessentially British, and unknown to any other jurisdiction on earth - the sale of peerages. Huge numbers of detectives are involved. Expensive new software is being installed to track down any deleted e-mails.
I would not dream of pretending that the matter is unimportant, since the swoop on Levy perfectly illustrates the decay of the Government and the putrefaction of the honours system. I merely ask you to contrast this frenzied activity by the police and their total indifference to the case that was discussed in Parliament yesterday.
As the minister did not hesitate to remind the House, the allegations against the NatWest Three are very grave indeed. They relate to the biggest financial scandal of the past few decades, in which a company worth billions was destroyed and thousands lost their jobs, and in which a British bank was (allegedly) defrauded of millions of pounds. The NatWest Three, like Lord Levy, are to be found in Britain. Like the noble lord, they are British citizens. It is suggested that their alleged offence was against British interests.
The tennis partner-in-chief is being questioned about an outrage to the British constitution, namely Labour's suspected cash-for-coronets scheme. The NatWest Three are accused of what amounts to theft from a British bank - a matter that you might have thought was of equal interest to our criminal justice system. But it is the silver-quiffed Lord Levy who has the exquisite shame and embarrassment of being arrested, and who is forced to issue a statement alleging that this is a gross abuse of police powers.
And what do the police do to the NatWest Three, for all the terrible accusations against them? They do diddly squat. They move not a muscle. They go into spasms of excitement about the corruption of the ermine and, in the face of the NatWest allegations, they turn into monuments of marmoreal motionlessness. No emanation of the British criminal justice system has taken the slightest interest in prosecuting these three, and yet we are happily sending them for trial in America.
It is bizarre. It makes us look like a banana republic, or some backward and unselfconfident province of the Roman empire.
It is as though we don't do white-collar fraud, except when it involves peerages, and we contract the big stuff to our American overlords.
I don't know whether David Bermingham and the other members of the NatWest trio are guilty or not, but I do know that when he boards the 9.30am flight from Gatwick today, the British Government will be conniving in a serious injustice.
It is a measure of this Government's panic over the 2003 Extradition Treaty with America that Tony Blair has simultaneously dispatched Baroness Scotland to plead with the American authorities. She is to scurry around Washington, reminding people how staunch we were in the war on Iraq and inquiring whether they might see their way round to ratifying this treaty. She will point out that we have been good boys, as usual, and put it into our law. She will ask whether they might consider doing the same. She will be given the bum's rush. She will then join the Prime Minister in begging the Americans to use what clout they have with the courts in Texas to give the men bail, and allow them to return to England, so that they don't spend the next two years in Guantanamo conditions while preparing their cases.
What a truly incredible state of affairs, and what a devastating comment on the workability of this treaty, that senior Labour ministers should be obliged to rush around Washington begging the American authorities not to use the powers we have given the Americans, and which the Americans refuse to give us.
As I have said before, the first problem with this Extradition Treaty is that it is unbalanced. Contrary to the rubbish peddled by the Prime Minister, it gives the Americans the right to demand suspects from Britain with virtually no evidence, while American suspects wanted by Britain have the protection of a hearing in which the evidence against them can be tested and contested, in court, by the defence.
That asymmetry would apply even if the treaty were ratified and would be reason enough to drop it. What makes it even worse is that the 2003 treaty takes away the right of any British authority to decide in which country the case should be heard.
As I never tire of saying, the natural forum for this case is obviously Britain: the evidence is all here, the men involved are Brits, and the allegedly defrauded entity was NatWest. The Americans are scooping them up because American telegraphic equipment was involved. Well, you might as well ask the Americans to try Lord Levy on the grounds that he used American Microsoft programmes to send his e-mails.
The best thing would be to renegotiate this treaty, not just for the sake of British justice but for the sake of America, whose reputation is suffering terribly as a result of the scandal. I have faith in the fundamental goodness of America. I hope relations will improve. We must have faith, hope and parity - and the greatest of these is parity.