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Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office in another place yesterday. The Statement is as follows:

“As my right honourable and learned friend indicates, this issue has a lengthy history. It was in July 2010 that Prime Minister Cameron announced Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry into allegations that the United Kingdom had been implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries in the aftermath of 9/11.

In December 2013, the Government published Sir Peter’s preparatory work and asked the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to follow up on the themes and issues which that work had identified, to take further evidence and to make a report. At the same time, the Government said that they would,

‘take a final view as to whether a further judicial inquiry still remains necessary to add any further information of value to future policy making and the national interest’.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/13; col. 916.]

In June last year, the Intelligence and Security Committee, its work having been interrupted by two general elections and the task of reconstituting the committee after those elections, published two reports: Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001-2010 and Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues.

In response to an Urgent Question from my right honourable and learned friend on 2 July last year, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, my right honourable friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, said that, in responding to the ISC reports, the Government would,

‘give careful consideration to the calls for another judge-led inquiry and will update the House’.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/18; col. 26.]

The Government responded formally to the ISC on 22 November last year, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, in a Written Statement, said:

‘The Government continues to give serious consideration to the examination of detainee issues and whether any more lessons can be learned and, if so, how’.

That serious consideration has included the question of a further judge-led inquiry.

As the House will understand, this has been complex work which has involved some of the most sensitive security issues. I confirm to the House today that the Government will make a definitive statement setting out their decision about a judge-led inquiry later this week and, at the same time, we will announce to the House our response to Sir Adrian Fulford’s recommendations on the consolidated guidance”.

My Lords, I am so grateful to the Minister for repeating that Answer. I declare my interest as the former director of Liberty, which was formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the right honourable Father of the House of Commons for a wholly principled and non-partisan position on that most absolute of human rights, the rule against torture? He spoke quite poignantly yesterday of the solemn promises for a judge-led inquiry that he gave in 2010 and 2012 as Justice Secretary in the former coalition Government. What greater tribute or gift could the outgoing Prime Minister, who was Home Secretary in that Government, give to the Father of the House of Commons on her way out than to grant his wish of the judge-led inquiry that so many have waited so long for?

I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to my right honourable friend Ken Clarke, who has pursued this issue with commitment for many years, not least because of undertakings he gave when he was Lord Chancellor in the coalition Government. I note her very strong wish that his campaign should be rewarded with the announcement of a judge-led inquiry later this week. The noble Baroness will understand that I cannot anticipate my right honourable friend’s Statement, but I know she will take into account the views that noble Lords express in this exchange.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Statement on a judge-led inquiry and the updating of the consolidated guidance promised yesterday by the Deputy Prime Minister will be an Oral Statement, as requested by the Speaker? Can he confirm on which day it will take place?

The sudden spurt of speed is welcome, but very belated. It is 17 years since the US rendition and torture in which the UK colluded began, and nine years since the Gibson inquiry was first set up. Is this because Prime Minister May fears that a Prime Minister Johnson would succumb to pressure from President Trump not to revive the inquiry? We have already heard only this afternoon that the Government have made no representations to the Trump Administration about that Administration’s child migrant detention.

Last year, the ISC was concerned to note that HMG,

“has failed to introduce any policy or process that will ensure that allies will not use UK territory for rendition purposes without prior permission”.

It appeared to be quite concerned that the,

“shift in focus signalled by the … US administration”,

meant that,

“reliance on retrospective assurances and the voluntary provision of passenger information”,

was not “satisfactory”. Are these kinds of concerns now driving this welcome but slightly mystifying sudden promise of a Statement?

I am not quite sure that the noble Baroness can complain about a sudden Statement when at the beginning of her question she complained about the length of time it has taken to reach a decision. In answer to her first question about whether the Statement will be oral or written, I cannot add to what my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy said yesterday in response to a request from the Speaker that it would be an Oral Statement:

“I will make sure that your comment to that effect is faithfully reported to my colleagues in Cabinet, Mr Speaker”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/19; col. 589.]

I am afraid I cannot add to that.

I understand what the noble Baroness said about the length of time. This is an important and sensitive decision, as are any decisions involving intelligence and security, and requires careful analysis. In the exchange yesterday, my right honourable friend made it clear that,

“the Prime Minister has been very clear that she regards it as her responsibility to ensure that the decision is taken and announced to Parliament before she leaves office”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/19; cols. 590-91.]

I might need to write to the noble Baroness on the other issues she raised, but Ministers must be involved in any case where an intelligence officer believes a detainee is at risk of mistreatment by a foreign state. The Ministerial Code obliges us to abide by international obligations such as the UN convention on torture and the ECHR.

My Lords, given that this matter has been considered since at least July last year, and that we are to have a definitive Statement later this week, that must mean the Government know their position already. What is the procedural or substantive reason for not making a proper response to the Question before the House?

Because I do not have it. My noble friend will know that there is a process to be gone through. The announcement yesterday was in response to an Urgent Question; it was not planned by the Government. The announcement planned by the Government will take place later this week, as announced by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster yesterday.

My Lords, at a time when the UK needs to do all it can to boost its reputation for upholding the rule of law, and when it is possible that next week we will have a Prime Minister who has publicly condoned waterboarding, could the Minister reassure the House that any forthcoming Statement will be the result of examination of and statements from all witnesses to these practices?

The Government will take all the relevant evidence into account when they announce their decision later this week. As I said, we are clear in opposing torture. The issue in debate is the extent to which it is alleged that there was knowledge of, or complicity in, the treatment of detainees in other countries. It is worth making the point that there is now a robust independent oversight regime that we have introduced over recent years. The changes in the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, the changes in the powers of the ISC and the statutory basis for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner have all ensured we have a robust, independent oversight regime, which I think is more transparent than nearly every other country.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that it is important that we remember that none of our men and women in any of the agencies was directly involved in torture? They might have been inadvertently one or two steps removed and we took a lot of actions to try to make it clear how they should behave in those difficult circumstances, because it had not been clear before. In all this discussion we must not assume, because it did not happen; our men and women were not involved directly in torture.

The noble Lord is quite right. Our officials were not involved in torture. I take this opportunity of saying that our intelligence and security personnel try to keep us safe, in very difficult and challenging circumstances. None the less, it is right that we hold them to the highest possible standards.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee between 2008 and 2015. With the benefit of hindsight, does the noble Lord consider that it was appropriate to prevent that committee from continuing with its investigations, and that it would have been entirely proper for it to continue an investigation which it had already begun?

The noble Lord will know better than I do the reasons why that inquiry could not proceed. There were extensive discussions and negotiations between the ISC and the Prime Minister to see if it could find a way through and interview witnesses. I am only sorry those discussions did not end in agreement and the inquiry came to an end.

My Lords, I declare an interest as treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. Can I probe my noble friend a little further on the answer that he has just given? The ISC said its report, which he referred to, was incomplete, because access to key witnesses had been blocked. Therefore, the inquiry could not and must not be taken as a definitive account. We surely cannot leave this hanging over our country’s reputation. Will the announcement to be made later this week or next week answer those questions and definitively lay out the relationship between the ISC and the Government in the future?

It will be this week rather than next week. The announcement later this week will give an answer to whether there should be a judge-led inquiry, and it will publish the conclusions and recommendations of Sir Adrian Fulford’s report, which was completed last week, together with the Government’s response. I do not have in front of me the answer to whether it will address all the issues raised by my noble friend.