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Extraordinary Rendition

Volume 693: debated on Monday 9 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether in 2001 NATO member states, including the United Kingdom, granted blanket overflight clearances and access to airfields to United States military aircraft involved in operations against terrorism; and whether the Government were then aware that such operations included the transfer of detainees.

My Lords, on 12 September 2001, NATO states, including the UK, granted blanket overflight clearance for American and other allies’ military flights for operations against terrorism. NATO also agreed to provide access to airfields for operations against terrorism. At that time the precise form of the international community’s response to the events of 11 September had not been determined. The Government’s policy on the transfer of detainees is clear: we have not approved, and will not approve, the transfer of individuals through the UK to places where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would face a real risk of torture.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Recent reports reveal compelling and extensive circumstantial evidence that the UK has been involved in the practice of extraordinary rendition. Does she believe that the Government have a moral duty to protect and promote fundamental human rights, including the right to be free of torture, and that, no matter what public opinion might be, they must come out in the strongest possible terms against the utterly unacceptable and counterproductive practice of extraordinary rendition? Does she agree that there should now be legal safeguards to ensure that the practice cannot continue in any shape or form in the future?

My Lords, it is indeed the Government’s moral duty to protect the human rights of all their citizens. Torture is morally wrong, and the Government unreservedly condemn its use. Last week my right honourable friend Kim Howells made a statement in the other place about how much the Government condemn the practice of extraordinary rendition, where the term means transfer to torture. Where that is the definition of extraordinary rendition, our position is clear: we do not approve of transfers to torture.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that President Bush and the Secretary of State have admitted that rendition is taking place, and have said that that is not unknown to European Governments? Can we expect the Government to act on what Harriet Harman said during the Labour deputy leadership campaign—that the Chicago Convention should be amended so that we know precisely who is on these flights, in order that we are not, as she said, complicit in transferring prisoners for torture?

My Lords, my right honourable friend Harriet Harman said in the other place last Thursday:

“Many people think that it is anomalous that while one must declare whether an aircraft is carrying a VIP or a dangerous substance, there is no requirement under the Chicago convention to declare whether prisoners are being carried”.

She continued that she was sure that her ministerial colleagues would note that point because they are,

“already concerned about the matter and will be looking further at the possibilities”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/7/07; col. 1099.]

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the past conduct of the CIA supports a reasonable suspicion that an aircraft under its control may be being used for unlawful rendition? That being so, is there a problem about requiring that any aircraft seeking permission at least to land at a United Kingdom airport should disclose in advance its estimated time of arrival, and is there then any difficulty about arranging for a search? Could any reasonable American Government object to that?

My Lords, the Government believe that the systems in place are adequate and that it would not be possible to provide the sort of searches and information that my noble and learned friend suggests. However, they are continually looking at this active, live issue, and I am sure that they will look at it further.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness acknowledge the massive divergence between the Council of Europe’s report on rendition and the ACPO inquiry? Have the Government undertaken any analysis to establish whether this divergence is due to fresh information being provided to the ACPO inquiry or whether the absence of such information meant that it was impossible to show whether these approvals had been given? Or is it simply that the right questions have still not been asked of the US Government to confirm or deny whether approvals for rendition had been given?

My Lords, I am replying on behalf of Her Majesty's Government; therefore, I am looking at the case from a very British perspective. We are confident that over the past few years no person has been rendered through the UK. We believe that the Council of Europe report by Dick Marty did not bring forward any new evidence of people who might have been rendered through UK air space. That is not the case; nothing like that has happened since 2001. We know that of the four cases since 1998, two people were rendered; permission was asked to render two more, and they were not rendered.

My Lords, would it be acceptable to the Government if planes used for extraordinary rendition came to British airports for refuelling even if they did not at that moment contain any suspects being transported for such operations in other countries?

My Lords, our concern would be to ensure that no person on an aircraft was being rendered away from justice, as it were. Our concern is not about the aircraft itself but about the safety and human rights of the person on board.