With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement. On 6 July, the Prime Minister told the House that the legacy issues the Government had inherited around the treatment of detainees held by other countries needed to be addressed. Our reputation as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law otherwise risked being tarnished. There was also the risk of public confidence being eroded, with people doubting the ability of our security and intelligence agencies to protect us and questioning the rules under which they operate.
The Government are absolutely clear that national security and the protection of the rule of law go hand in hand. The Prime Minister has repeatedly made it clear that this coalition Government are unswerving in their opposition to torture or the ill-treatment of prisoners or detainees. We do not condone it, nor do we ask others to do it on our behalf.
We recognise that our longer-term security interests require that we defend our values and the rule of law, and that any allegations that threaten those must be treated seriously. In tackling the challenges posed by those serious allegations, the Government’s overriding objective is to ensure that the security and intelligence agencies can focus on their vital task of protecting the security and interests of the UK, and that the serious allegations that threaten their reputation and that of our country are examined properly. The security of this nation is the first concern of any Government. The security and intelligence agencies play an invaluable part in ensuring our security, and the Government are determined that they are free to do the vital job that we need them to do.
In his statement, the Prime Minister said that a single, authoritative inquiry was required to investigate the serious allegations of the Government’s complicity in the mistreatment of detainees held by other countries. The right honourable Sir Peter Gibson was appointed to head that independent inquiry. However, the Prime Minister also made it clear that the inquiry could not begin while related police investigations were ongoing and while so many of the Guantanamo civil law suits brought against the Government remained unresolved. To help to pave the way for the inquiry to begin, the Government committed to entering into a process of mediation with those held by the United States in detention in Guantanamo Bay who had brought civil actions against the Government.
I can today inform the House that the Government have now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The details of that settlement have been made subject to a legally binding confidentiality agreement. They have been reported in confidence to the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the House, to the National Audit Office, and, I think, to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
No admissions of culpability have been made in settling those cases and nor have any of the claimants withdrawn their allegations. This is a mediated settlement. Confidentiality is a very common feature of mediation processes, as in this case. Confidentiality was agreed by both parties, subject to the necessary parliamentary accountability and legal requirements. I hope that the House will understand that I am unable to comment further on the details of the settlement without breaching that confidentiality with the claimants.
The alternative to any payments made was protracted and extremely expensive litigation in an uncertain legal environment in which the Government could not be certain that we would be able to defend Departments and the security and intelligence agencies without compromising national security. The cost was estimated at approximately £30 million to £50 million over three to five years of litigation. In our view, there could have been no Gibson inquiry until that ligation was resolved.
The Government will make a further statement to the House when the relevant police processes have been completed and the inquiry is in a position to begin its work. The mediated settlement actually represents a significant step forward in delivering the Government’s plan for a resolution of those issues in the interests of both justice and national security. The settlement has the support of the heads of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Whitehall Departments involved. The Security Service and the SIS are issuing a public statement to that effect today.
In his statement, the Prime Minister also announced plans for a Green Paper on the use of intelligence in judicial proceedings, which we hope to publish in the summer of 2011. It will examine mechanisms for the protection and disclosure of sensitive information in the full range of civil proceedings, inquests and inquiries. We will also consider complementary options to modernise and reform existing standing intelligence oversight mechanisms. The Government are engaging with relevant parliamentary bodies, key stakeholders and our international partners in developing these proposals further. Today’s announcement is a very important step forward, and we are closer now to getting the important Gibson inquiry into all these allegations finally under way.
I thank the Justice Secretary for advance sight of his statement and for our meeting earlier today. I welcome his decision this morning to make this an oral statement to the House, rather than the written statement originally planned. I would also like to put it on the record at the outset that up until November 2004, I was a senior partner at a law firm that acted for a number of the Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Does the Secretary of State agree that statements as significant as this should be made first to the House before they appear in the media? Will he therefore join me in raising concern that this extremely important announcement was leaked to ITN’s “News at Ten” programme last night?
On the substance of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s statement, the House is united in its complete rejection of torture and mistreatment. That goes for the practice of and collusion or complicity in torture. It is illegal, it is internationally banned, and no Government should have anything to do with it. The Labour party has been, and will remain, completely opposed to Guantanamo Bay. We took action in government to remove all the British citizens and all but one resident from Guantanamo Bay, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband) ensured that Britain’s Government were the first to get all their citizens out of there. What steps are this Government taking to secure the release of the one remaining resident still in Guantanamo Bay, Shaker Aamer? I note that the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who represents his family, is in her place.
Britain’s security services, under all Governments, are required to live up to the highest standards, while protecting our national security. They do an incredible job. Their work is rarely ever recognised, for obvious reasons of secrecy, but they save lives, and we should always remind ourselves of that. We should also place firmly on the record the human rights policy of our security services, and be proud of their stance. As John Sawers, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, said last month:
“If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we’re required by UK and international law to avoid that action. It makes us strive all the harder to find different ways, consistent with human rights, to get the outcome we want.”
To sustain the excellent work of the intelligence agencies, and to ensure that these standards are met in practice, it is vital that whenever allegations are made they are fully investigated.
You will know, Mr Speaker, that the previous Government began the process of publishing the consolidated guidance given to our intelligence officers, which was a process finished by the current Government earlier this year. It was and remains our view that all measures possible should be taken to satisfy ourselves, the public and our allies that if any wrongdoing is alleged, it is fully investigated, that any evidence is gathered and passed on, and that it is dealt with to conclusion. That is why the previous Attorney-General referred two cases where concerns had been raised to the police for investigation, and that is why we look forward to the judge-led inquiry into allegations of complicity in torture now that the civil cases are settled.
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the police will be able to conclude their investigations before the judge-led inquiry begins? Obviously, the House has not been privy to the detail of the settlements and the negotiations, but he will know that there are legitimate questions about the settlements that the Government have come to that mean that these 16 cases will no longer be resolved individually in the courts. We understand that the Government have had to consider this in the light of the ruling by the Court of Appeal in May. Can he confirm to the House that the settlements reached will not pre-judge the inquiry or pass judgement on the actions of our security services in advance of a full investigation?
Will the confidentiality agreement prevent the Secretary of State from telling the House and the public the sums of money involved in these settlements? If so, will he reconsider and agree with us that there is a public interest in knowing the total sum involved in this settlement? Will he commit to scrutiny of the settlements by both the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Public Accounts Committee? He said that the claimants would be able to give evidence to the Gibson inquiry. Can he tell the House what investigations within the scope of the inquiry will take place into the allegations in those specific cases? Will the inquiry pass judgment on each individual case? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the scope of that inquiry has changed since the Prime Minister’s statement to the House in July?
Finally, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman also tell the House whether any other cases remain unsettled, and if so, what decision has been taken on their effect on the inquiry? It is important that the inquiry can be thorough and that its access to documents held by the Government should be as full as that enjoyed by the courts. Can he therefore confirm that the Gibson inquiry will have access to all the same information that has been or would be available to the courts? Everyone will appreciate the need to ensure that Britain’s security is not compromised, and that must be reflected in the way that the inquiry operates. However, as the allegations are comprehensively addressed, it is important that the public should have confidence in the process and its outcome. We say again: there is no place for the torture or mistreatment of detainees.
I, too, regret the leak. I am having a bad week for leaks. I made a statement yesterday that had been leaked by somebody at the weekend, and last night I was at dinner when I was told that ITV had details of this statement. It is early days in government to have them so frequently—but ’twas ever thus. I will do my best to ensure that there are no leaks of this kind in future.
We continue to press the Americans for Shaker Aamer’s release. We are trying to ensure his release, and we are in constant contact with them.
So far as the other questions are concerned, the determination of this Government, as soon as we took office, has been to try to draw a line under these cases and move on, in the light of the policy that the right hon. Gentleman supported, and on which all parts of the House agreed. This country is against torture. This country has a good, high-quality security and intelligence service. We wish to make it quite clear that it is not complicit—and must not be complicit—in the torture or ill-treatment of detainees, so the sooner we resolve these doubts and enable it to get on with its proper job of intelligence, the better. We were bogged down in litigation and complaints which were slowly going not exactly nowhere but could have taken years to resolve, because of all the difficulties with the admissibility of the evidence and the hearing of evidence in public.
For that reason, we have sought to draw a line under things. We published the guidance on treatment of detainees, as the right hon. Gentleman said, which is the first step that we took. We have now resolved these issues in a way that enables us to move on. We still have to wait for the police inquiry, to which he also referred. That is entirely a matter for the police, and no one—no Minister or anybody else—can intervene and start instructing the police on how to conduct such inquiries. We cannot get the Gibson inquiry under way until the police inquiries have been resolved. I do not know how long they will take—I hope that they will not take too long—but that is a matter for the police. If those inquiries lead to prosecutions, we will have to wait for the resolution of those prosecutions. If they lead to no prosecutions, we really will be clear to get on to the inquiry that lies beyond.
The settlement, which involves no concession of liability or withdrawal of allegations, does not prejudge the Gibson inquiry in any way. It will be entirely for Sir Peter and his colleagues to decide on the inquiry once its terms of reference have finally been settled. We see the inquiry as looking at the problem in general—that is, looking at the history and deciding whether there were problems and whether there are any lessons to learn, as well as making inquiries about how we might ensure that the standards that the whole House would want to uphold are put beyond doubt for the future. We have not altered the scope of the inquiry since the Prime Minister made his statement, and we expect it to have access to a wide range of information—indeed, all the information that it could reasonably expect. The problem with the courts is either that they cannot have access to a lot of the information because of all the security problems, or that they cannot share it with the complainants and the public. So far as I am aware, the settlements cover all the British residents and citizens from Guantanamo Bay who are making complaints. We are not aware of any other cases that could be raised on all fours with those.
The settlement has saved us money and, most importantly, time. It has stopped the intelligence service spending man-hours on sifting through evidence and coping with litigation, but it must remain confidential. It is legally confidential and could be reopened if either side broke that confidentiality, so I am afraid that I am unable to tell the right hon. Gentleman the precise sums involved, but the gain that has been achieved by mediating the claims is considerable and in the national interest.
Order. There is much interest in this subject, and immediately afterwards we have a ten-minute rule motion followed by the first day in Committee of a very important constitutional Bill, so there is a premium on brevity from Back-Bench and Front-Bench Members alike.
Having been a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee for the past five years, I have reached the uncomfortable conclusion that if there is not to be a total breakdown in the intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States, my right hon. and learned Friend has reached the right conclusion. However, does he agree that he must now find a way of conducting such litigation without compromising national security? Has he considered expanding the scope of the Green Paper from civil cases to criminal cases?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his sensible proposition. The same issues arise, and I will certainly bear his suggestion in mind. The problem crops up over and over again. We currently have an inquest into the highly important matter of the explosions on 7 July, which has decided to extend itself into an inquiry into the activities of the intelligence services in informing themselves about possible risks to security throughout the country. Wholly foreseeably, it has run crash into the problem of exactly what evidence is supposed to be adduced about that in public. I have no idea—it is for Lady Justice Hallett to resolve—how we move on in that particular case. The Green Paper will be difficult. It will be difficult to reach clear conclusions, but we wish to do so as quickly as possible and the purpose of the Green Paper is to address that problem so that we can be sure that justice is done without compromising national security. At the moment, there is a tendency for claimants, the security service and everyone else to get bogged down in interminable litigation and judicial review. That has to be resolved.
I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s statement and the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan). Picking up on the remarks of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether it will be possible for Sir Peter Gibson, who has great judicial experience, to feed into the important work on the Green Paper on the use of intelligence in judicial proceedings?
Sir Peter Gibson has indeed been the Intelligence Services Commissioner, and still is, although he will probably have to give that up when he takes on this inquiry. If he wishes to give his views on this difficult question, I am sure that they will be welcome, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, he is a considerable expert on the subject.
Is it a reasonable assumption that the UK Government would not agree to a mediated settlement if there were no evidence whatever of UK involvement in any illegal act?
The settlement is not to be taken as an admission of liability, as it were. It was not in the interests of either party to get stuck into civil litigation with a wholly unforeseeable outcome. As I have said, it could have taken years and cost tens of millions of pounds. Its resolution was holding up the wish of the Prime Minister and the Government to get on with sorting out the allegations and having a proper inquiry into them. It has cost us quite a bit of money to mediate them, because the complainants were pressing their claims. The situation is obviously difficult and unusual, but it was right, in the public interest, to pay the money. The idea that we should carry on arguing for the next five or six years—it could have taken that long—and find ourselves in a pale reflection of the Saville inquiry running on and on would not have done anyone any good at all, so we paid the money so that we can move on. I think we have saved public money by not continuing to contest the claims.
I think there will be natural concern on both sides of the House about Government payments of compensation when culpability has not been admitted. It is, however, important to welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s statement today. I also welcome his repetition—word for word, if my memory serves me right—of the previous Government’s position on torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. May I bring him back to the subject of the police inquiries and the Gibson inquiry? Like him, I hope for a speedy conclusion to the police inquiries so that the Gibson inquiry can get on with its work and bring some facts to a debate that often sadly lacks them. Would it be possible for Sir Peter Gibson and his team to start work now, even if their public and other work cannot get going yet? It would be a pity if the police inquiries were to drag on for many more months, delaying bringing clarity to this area.
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s statement of this country’s values as far as torture and ill-treatment are concerned. I also share his impatience to see the Gibson inquiry get under way. The Government cannot, however, have the inquiry proceeding in parallel with either civil or criminal proceedings on part of the same subject. For that reason, we must make it clear straight away that both will have to be resolved before we can proceed. If Sir Peter were to start, and if there were a prosecution arising from the police inquiries, a criminal trial might be running in parallel to his inquiry. That would not be possible. We shall wait to see what the police decide, and the moment those matters are resolved, Sir Peter will be able to begin his work.
Without prejudicing any of the facts of this case, can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that any act of torture, or conspiracy to commit acts of torture, by any UK citizen anywhere in the world will be a criminal offence, and that, as a matter of public policy, any evidence obtained by torture will always be inadmissible in UK courts?
Yes, I can give a straightforward, positive answer to both those questions. Yes, that is undoubtedly the case, and my hon. Friend has accurately stated the position.
I thank the Justice Secretary for giving me advance notice of his statement. Given the need to preserve confidentiality in relation to the settlement, how long does he think that that confidentiality will be preserved, bearing in mind the two serious leaks from his Department this week?
Exactly the same thoughts have crossed my mind, but I am bound by the confidentiality agreement and I must hope that everyone will abide by their legal obligations. However, I share the hon. Gentleman’s uncertainty.
Might it be appropriate for us to seek to recover the costs of the compensation payments from those individuals who are responsible, in particular the former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who has made tens of millions of pounds since leaving this House?
The costs have been incurred in civil litigation between the detainees and the Government, and we have settled the matter. I do not think that that would be proper—I do not agree with my hon. Friend’s suggestion, and I do not think that there is really the slightest claim against the previous Prime Minister.
Does the Secretary of State accept that many people will find this settlement a bitter pill to swallow? Will he confirm that, if our intelligence relationship with the United States were to break down, which was a real possibility, it would imperil the lives of many, many citizens of this country?
I agree that the Government’s relationship with the United States and the close relationship between our intelligence services and those of the United States make a vital contribution to our protection of the security of this country and the lives of individuals here. That must not be jeopardised.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be wrong to infer from the fact that there is a confidentiality agreement about the substantial sums paid to these individuals that that confidentiality agreement was imposed at the behest of one side rather than the other?
The other side wanted confidentiality as well, I am assured. It is not at all unusual, when mediating an action of this kind, for both sides to agree that they wish to have confidentiality. My hon. Friend is quite right: there is no point in trying to read into this that either side has resiled. Anyone who has been involved in any kind of civil litigation on a less serious matter will know that, often, a party that has been busily protesting its side of the argument can be quite well advised to stop running up costs, to stop wasting management time, to make a reasonable offer and to get out of it. In this case, the considerations were much more important for the public interest. How much longer did we want man-hours in the intelligence services to be absorbed, and how many tens of millions were we prepared to spend on interminable litigation?
Leaving aside the cheap political point made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) a moment ago, let me tell the Justice Secretary that I find it difficult to understand—as will many people—how compensation could be paid unless there was substantial substance to the allegations made by those who claim that they were transferred illegally and tortured abroad. Surely the clear lesson to be learned is that a state such as ours, based on the rule of law, must ensure that all its officials observe the rule of law, and must not be complicit in any way with agents abroad who carry out torture.
It is not unusual in many walks of life for a settlement to be reached with neither party making any concessions on their arguments, but both parties agreeing that the settlement constitutes a sensible way of reaching a compromise in the dispute without going further.
I entirely agree with the statement of principle in the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Government are opposed to torture. Torture is a serious criminal offence. We are opposed to the ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners in any circumstances. We will not condone it, and we will not be complicit in it. Those are the essential values that we must defend, even when we face such dangers as we do now from terrorism in the world.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement. Further to his comments about Shaker Aamer, does he agree that if we are to achieve closure gradually over the next few years, it is important that Shaker Aamer is released to this country so that he can give evidence to the torture inquiry in person?
Yes, I do agree. I know that there are people who feel very strongly about the release of Shaker Aamer. We continue to be in contact with the United States, and we continue to hope that he will be released and returned to this country. I know that my hon. Friend has been arguing and campaigning for that for some time. I agree with her, and we are doing our best.
Is the Secretary of State comfortable with the fact that millions of pounds are being paid out during the week in which he is announcing big cuts in the legal aid budget? Should we not be ensuring that if those who receive the money themselves breach the confidentiality agreement, or their lawyers do, the money is taken back from them?
That might involve reopening the settlement, which I would not be willing to do. We must be careful about the confidentiality because, certainly in principle, the settlement could be reopened. I entirely understand that there are a large number of aspects of this with which everyone is uncomfortable, and which some people will strongly dislike. However, we must keep our eye on the ball, and decide what is truly in the national interest. What is truly in the national interest is allowing the intelligence services to get on with their job, allowing us to put the reputation of this country beyond doubt, and learning lessons that may have to be learned—we do not know yet—from anything that Sir Peter Gibson puts forward.
As for the legal aid proposals, we said that legal aid would still be available, on a means-tested basis, to anyone who wished to challenge the state by way of judicial review. Other claims would have to involve exceptional public interest.
I welcome the statement. I am sorry that we did not do more to speak out against Guantanamo Bay and everything that it stands for. The creation of the term “enemy combatants” allowed the nation, indeed the world, to ignore the Geneva conventions.
My I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to turn to the issue of compensation for British victims of terrorism overseas? As he will know, those who were caught up in the 7/7 bombings were adequately supported and compensated, but as soon as such an event takes place abroad we see that there is no support whatsoever, whether it be in Bali, Mumbai or Sharm el Sheikh. That is simply wrong, and it needs to change.
I know of my hon. Friend’s continuing interest in this subject. As part of our policy considerations in the light of the public spending review, we are having to examine the criminal injuries compensation system and the proposed terrorist injury compensation system. We are having to decide how we should judge the Government’s responsibilities for compensating those who have been injured by crime, either at home—we have always compensated those people—or abroad: I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning for that.
A year ago, I wrote on behalf of the Home Affairs Committee to the previous Attorney-General, asking about the police inquiries, and I see that the Secretary of State is surrounded by Law Officers today. While not seeking to influence or instruct the police, which would be totally improper, surely it is in everyone’s interests that we know if there is a timetable. What is holding up this inquiry, which has gone on for several years?
If the police follow these exchanges, I am sure they will note the right hon. Gentleman’s impatience that we move on and get some resolution to inquiries, which I think have been going on for about 15 to 18 months. He knows, because he is as good a lawyer as anybody else involved in these discussions, that it would be quite improper for anyone to approach the police and put pressure on them to put in place a timetable or to press them one way or the other.
I welcome the Gibson inquiry, and I agree that what has been announced is necessary for the sake of our national security, but will my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge the concern expressed by many people that a settlement has been paid using British taxpayers’ money for foreign nationals—non-British citizens—detained in a foreign country by a foreign Government?
The cases involve British nationals or British residents. Although there is one case where that is a slightly doubtful statement, it had already got under way before we came into office, and at some stage the jurisdiction had been accepted. Twelve cases are already before the court, and four would have come before the court if we had not proceeded as we have. We have not started compensating people at large for what happened in Guantanamo Bay. We have only dealt with British residents and British citizens.
Have I got this right? Is the Secretary of State paying out large sums of money—he will not tell us how much—to people who are giving no guarantees about not breaking confidentiality? Can it be true that he cannot say to the House that this matter has ended? Is he not buying time? This sounds like money for old rope. The other week, the Conservatives were giving prisoners votes; now they are giving them lottery millions. I think I have already discovered the soft underbelly of this Government.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, no, he is not right: the confidentiality is binding on both sides. The people who brought the claims have bound themselves by confidentiality and so have the Government. That is a perfectly usual term of a mediated settlement of what was going to be a hugely expensive problem for the British taxpayer if it had not been resolved.
I welcome the statement. As I understand it, the mediation is designed to address the potential cost of litigation arising from the Guantanamo cases and is estimated to be between £30 million and £50 million. The inquiry is also wider than that, and will deal with non-Guantanamo cases where individuals have been detained in other countries. What is the estimated cost of the potential litigation in those cases?
I agree that the Gibson inquiry does have wide terms of reference, although these matters finally have to be settled. It is looking at the whole question of the ill treatment of detainees generally, although, of course, usually in cases where there is some British involvement, such as where our allies have been involved or where we have been engaged in theatre. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) takes a great interest in these allegations and as he cannot be present today he has been on the telephone to me, because he is very anxious that rendition should be included.
I cannot give an estimate of the cost, but we are anxious that there should be a reasonable time scale, and so is Sir Peter. We do not want this to go on for ever. The inquiry will take a general look at the position, and it will take such evidence as it feels fit and go as wide as is necessary to guide future British policy. Beyond that I cannot go, however, because in the end this will be a matter for Sir Peter and his two colleagues on the panel.
We know that the settlement was under £30 million because that is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said was the minimum cost of the alternative. I confess that I am not a lawyer—most British people are not lawyers—but I cannot understand why the Government, in making this settlement, took the view that they wanted to keep the sum of money involved a secret from the British people. Why was that the Government’s position in this case?
This was negotiated and the other side wanted confidentiality, and it was settled on the basis of confidentiality, subject to parliamentary accountability. I understand the hon. Gentleman, and, with great respect, I anticipated his questions, as they are going to occur to quite a lot of people. We could settle this on the basis of confidentiality and we have done so. We have notified the National Audit Office, I think that we offered a briefing to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and we have briefed the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, but it would be folly to break the legal confidentiality, which was part of the settlement, if the result is to jeopardise the settlement and put us back where we started.
I am sorry to strike a discordant note, but ordinary decent people out there are going to think that the world has gone mad. People making wild, unsubstantiated and baseless allegations of torture are getting more money than victims of terrorism here in London. If, as the Secretary of State says, it is the law that has forced him to do this, what people out there will want to hear from him are assurances that he will accelerate proposals to change the law and ensure that we never have any of this nonsense again.
It is the rule of law, I am afraid. The hon. Gentleman is prejudging the claims that were being fought out before the courts. The claims were for compensation for serious problems that these detainees had suffered—I have met these people. The argument was about the complicity of the British security services, which was not and is not admitted. The detainees were bringing a legal action. It might be that had this ever been fought to a conclusion, the court might have come to the hon. Gentleman’s conclusion that these claims were baseless, but we are never going to discover that now, because we have settled this. We did so as it was not worth discovering, because the bigger public interest was in making sure that we could put a line under all this, get back to having the reputation of our intelligence services restored and get Sir Peter Gibson to advise on how to make sure that that reputation remains intact in future.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that if these allegations were wild and unsubstantiated, as has just been suggested, the Government would not have been keen to settle these cases?
I think that in all forms of litigation it is wrong to start reading whether a settlement made with no admissions on one side and no withdrawal of allegations on the other indicates which side was winning—it does not necessarily do so. The fact is that these two sides were locked in litigation, which was going nowhere fast because of the very difficult legal problem of what evidence can be admitted and whether that evidence should be admitted publicly. If Members want, they can read into this that one side was admitting it or that the other side was producing frivolous claims and got away with murder. The court was entertaining these claims; 12 civil actions were under way. But I think everybody understands from the most extraordinary circumstances of this case that it was better to settle it than just to let it go on to see who eventually won. No one should read into this admissions of liability and no one should read into this that one side packed up its claims; we just agreed to come to a very sensible mediated settlement.
Can we demonstrate that we have learned the lesson of the damage done to our reputation by the protracted nature of these investigations by guaranteeing that when fresh allegations are made of bad behaviour, such as the 21 cases cited by The Guardian following freedom of information requests, those present and future allegations will be investigated swiftly and thoroughly?
That is why we need the Green Paper, in order to try to establish some rules on the admissibility of intelligence evidence or evidence that may be of relevance to national security. As I believe I said in answer to an earlier question, this issue is cropping up with ever more frequency and we need to resolve it. This is not just something that the Government or Parliament can simply declare we are going to do. We have to resolve this in a way that is compatible with the rule of law, with the judgments that British Courts are likely to come to and with the strong opinions held by the judiciary in this country in their role of defending our fundamental rights, the rule of law and the independence of the courts. We have to consider our international obligations. It will not be easy to produce a Green Paper, but that is the secret to getting back to resolving these matters at a decent pace. I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s wish that we could do that, so that they can be sorted out pretty clearly, fairly and straightforwardly whenever they arise.
You will know, Mr Speaker, that my former constituent Feroz Abbasi was held for many years in Guantanamo Bay in intolerable conditions without charge and was later freed. May I ask the Justice Secretary that if members of MI5 or MI6 are found to be complicit in torture, what penalties will they face?
That is speculative. I should make it clear that the allegations in these cases were not, so far as I am aware, that any member of the British security services had directly been involved in torture or ill treatment. They were argued to be complicit—that is, they had known that others were doing that and had somehow been complicit, which is not admitted by the security services. That was the issue. No one, I think, has been accused of torturing. It would be a very serious matter if anybody in the British intelligence services was ever found to have taken part in torture or the deliberate ill treatment of a detainee.