Previous SectionIndexHome Page

General Pinochet

33. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): What is the cost to date in legal fees to British public funds of the attempt to extradite General Pinochet; and if he will make a statement. [65861]

The Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Before the case is concluded, it is difficult to give a reliable indication of costs. The costs of the Crown Prosecution Service cannot yet be separated out because CPS staff are engaged in a variety of cases at any time. However, the fees of counsel instructed by the Treasury Solicitor's Department are £105,000, of which £18,000 is recoverable under a costs order made against Senator Pinochet in the divisional court.

Mr. Mullin: Can my hon. Friend assure the House that in the unhappy event of General Pinochet's managing to escape extradition, his legal bills will be rigorously scrutinised before they are passed on to the taxpayer?

Mr. Hoon: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Given the history of this case, the question of who should pay any costs, and in what proportion, is inevitably difficult and rather complex, especially before

26 Jan 1999 : Column 142

the case is finally resolved. The matter will ultimately be for their lordships to decide--perhaps after further legal proceedings.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): How much did Lord Hoffmann's failure to declare his interest cost public funds? The Minister will recall the fuss about the Scott inquiry in the previous Parliament. Why, in this Parliament, must the President of the Board of Trade resign because he failed to declare an interest, while a judge such as Lord Hoffmann, who had a direct personal interest in the case, gets off literally scot free?

Mr. Hoon: The question of who should pay those costs and those parts of the costs will be a matter for their lordships to determine at the conclusion of the case. I am not able to assist the hon. Gentleman further on that point at this stage.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is my hon. Friend aware that, whatever public money is spent, it will be well justified in trying to bring a former criminal dictator to justice--

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member knows the sub judice rule in the House. That question was quite unnecessary. I had hoped that it would be rather more positive, and deal with legal fees, as the original question demands.

26 Jan 1999 : Column 141

26 Jan 1999 : Column 143

Sex Offenders

3.31 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether any prisoners currently serving sentences as a result of convictions to which part I of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 applies will be released under home detention curfew on 28 January, and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Paul Boateng): I do not expect any sex offender to be curfewed on home detention curfew on Thursday. Governors have been instructed that no sex offender should be considered for home detention curfew unless there are exceptional circumstances, and then only if there is the clearest evidence of no risk to the public. In any case, any proposal to curfew such an offender will have to be approved by the Director General of the Prison Service.

As members of the Home Affairs Select Committee unanimously recognised recently, home detention curfew will improve the transition of short-term offenders from custody back into the community, by providing order into often chaotic life styles. It will encourage offenders to take greater responsibility for finding a stable address. Prison governors have already reported a much greater willingness by prisoners to make suitable release arrangements. Prisoners discharged to a stable address, and curfewed to that address for at least nine hours a day, are much less likely to reoffend. The scheme is first and foremost about protecting the public.

I shall set out the conditions under which an offender may be placed on home detention curfew, which the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) will want to hear. First, only offenders serving between three months and four years will be eligible. Secondly, only prisoners who do not pose a risk to the public, do not pose a risk of reoffending, are likely to abide by the curfew conditions and who have a suitable home address will be allowed on home detention curfew. Prisoners who fail any of those tests will complete their sentence in prison. On Thursday, I expect no more than about 50 prisoners to be curfewed. None of those will be offenders under part I of the Sex Offenders Act 1997.

Mr. Clappison: Is the Minster aware of the depth of public concern about sex offenders and the public's desire for the strongest possible protection from the risk that such offenders pose? Is he aware that Opposition Members have all along expressed concern about sex offenders with regard to the Government's programme of early release from prison facilitated by electronic tagging? In view of the grave risk involved in such cases, should not the Government be in possession of relevant information and have a grasp of what is going on?

According to written answers provided last night, the Government were able to say only that, out of the 135 prisoners eligible to be considered for release, fewer than 10 were sex offenders. They could not give the exact figure. When it came to the number of prisoners actually to be released, we were told that the information would be available only after 28 January.

26 Jan 1999 : Column 145

At the start of his statement, however, the Minister told us that he "expects" no sex offenders to be released, but, at the end of it, he told us that no such prisoners will be released. What is the case? Does the Minister know whether any of those prisoners will be released? If the answer is that no such prisoners will be released, why could not the Government give that information yesterday evening? Why are the Government suddenly able to produce that figure today, when they were unable to produce it yesterday, after months and months of preparation for the scheme, which was first announced by the Government as long ago as November 1997? Does not that show a Government who, at the very least, are slipshod when it comes to obtaining and imparting vital information on an important subject?

For the future, will the Minister tell us now approximately how many sex offenders will be eligible for release when the scheme is up and running, given that more than 7,000 prisoners in the prison population are eligible for release, and 4,000 will be on early release as a result of tagging at any one time? The Minister looks perplexed. I hope that those facts do not come as a surprise to him, because they are contained in answers that his Department has given. He should know that information. Will he tell us now how many of those offenders might be sex offenders? Will he give us an assurance now that, when Ministers actually find out how many sex offenders will be released and discover what is going on, they will give the House that information in good time? Will they ensure that they obtain that information?

Finally, will the Minister give us a definite assurance today that no sex offenders will be released on Thursday of this week? Is the answer to that yes?

Mr. Boateng: I am looking perplexed only at the hon. Gentleman's apparent lack of ability to listen to what I have said. No sex offenders under part I of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 will be released on Thursday--none, not any. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has heard me and understands me.

The hon. Gentleman must also understand the difference between eligibility for consideration under the 1997 Act and the circumstances in which someone would be adjudged to be of a degree of risk such that it would be safe to enable him to leave under the conditions of the home curfew. The point of the home detention curfew is to ensure that the public interest is protected. It will be protected, it has been protected, and we shall monitor the release of all prisoners under the home detention curfew in a way that will ensure that the purposes of the home detention curfew are met.

Before the hon. Gentleman starts playing party politics with the home detention curfew, he needs to understand that each and every member of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee--including the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Malins), for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth)--supports home detention curfews. The aim of those curfews is to protect the public, and we shall ensure that the public are protected.

26 Jan 1999 : Column 143

26 Jan 1999 : Column 145

Military Action Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval)

3.38 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I beg to move,

Let me be brutally candid. I do not think that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary--along, it had better be said, with most Members of the House of Commons, and the President of the United States and Mrs. Albright--have any real notion of the horror that is being unleashed against the people of Iraq.

The trite phrase,

is cant. Sanctions and bombing are actions that harm no one but the Iraqi people. If the Prime Minister had understood the high-tech savagery of that to which he was giving his agreement, he would never have allowed himself to step out of No. 10 Downing street in front of a Christmas tree to announce military strikes, and he certainly would not have chosen to be photographed, as he was, in the cockpit of a Tornado aircraft in Kuwait.

My right hon. Friend sitting next to me, the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), has served in war, as hasthe right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). Some other hon. Members have experienced the V1s and V2s attacking London. I have experience only of firing guns on ranges in Lulworth and Hohne-Belsen in Rhine Army, but the smell of cordite and the din were enough to give an inkling of the awfulness of bombardment.

Those colleagues who for age reasons have never served in the forces, and who have been inoculated against weapons of mass destruction by watching Indiana Jones and the like on television--I make no criticism of that--may have little real grasp of the enormities that are currently being perpetrated in our name.

We all gape at the fireworks over Baghdad from the comfort of our living rooms. When, with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), I saw the end result of laser-guided bombs, as I did at the Amariya--the shelter--in Baghdad in 1994--the carbonated torsos of women and sheltering children imprinted on the walls--it had the same sort of effect as when I saw the holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

It is not simply a matter of actual death and destruction. Imagine having young children in a city of 4.5 million, screaming every night, traumatised at the deafening sounds all around them. We must imagine terrified old people, bewildered by the west using high-tech to frighten them out of their wits.

The Prime Minister, quite honourably, sets out his stall as a Christian socialist. He will therefore know his Augustine and his Aquinas. Did they not have a good deal to say about everything possible being done to avoid war, as a condition of a just war? By no stretch of the imagination has that been done. There has been no light at the end of the tunnel on sanctions. It is not only my sponsors and I who think so.

For example, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, the archbishop of the archdiocese for United States military services, has said that the US bombing of Iraq is morally

26 Jan 1999 : Column 146

questionable, and that US military personnel should question their actions if ordered to take an action that is a clear

    "violation of the moral law."

Archbishop O'Brien said in a statement to the Catholic chaplains serving the US armed forces around the world that soldiers, airmen, seamen and marines

    "are not exempt from making conscientious decisions"

when confronted with immoral orders. He continued:

    "I join the bishops of our country as well as the concerned voices of the Holy See and other hierarchies in calling on our president and his advisers to initiate no further military action in the Middle East."

The archbishop praised the professionalism of the US military and noted that they are subject to the policy decisions of US elected leaders. He stated:

    "Once civilian leadership decides a policy requiring military action, it is the sworn obligation of all in our armed forces to execute their mission in complete obedience unless in a specific instance the required action is judged clearly illegal or immoral."

I am not criticising the armed forces of Britain or the United States, but Archbishop O'Brien stipulated the conditions under which a soldier decides the morality of an order. He asserted:

    "In executing orders that might violate just war requirements military personnel face a serious moral challenge. . . Any individual who judges an action on his . . . part to be in violation of the moral law is bound to avoid that action."

He went on to state:

    "When clear moral conclusions that a particular act is unjust cannot be reached because, for example, of lack of sufficient evidence, the individual is justified in following the presumably better informed decision of his or her superiors."

We must take that into account.

If I make my argument personal to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary, it is because members of the Cabinet are letting it be known that even they were not consulted about the current bombing, or the moral issues involved. Britain is, after all, supposedly a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential state.

The real object of the Bill is to try to bring home to each Member of Parliament, by vote, and each member of the Government exactly what he or she is supporting, and the moral dilemmas, such as those outlined by Archbishop O'Brien, that they face--death of civilians; inevitable collateral damage; making Saddam Hussein into a latter-day Saladin, even more popular with the Arab masses, if not with the Al-Sabah family in Kuwait, than was President Nasser in his heyday; and making little dent on mobile weapons which, if they exist, were certainly not found by UNSCOM.

Let us not pretend that this is a clear legislative proposal, in its final form. I make no such claim. There may be occasions on which the secrecy of an SAS strike is justified. It could, for instance, be an operation to rescue British nationals: in such cases, surprise is of the essence. There could be other occasions on which a response might be called for--a response to a perceived or actual scud missile attack.

No; what the Bill is about is the simple proposition that, in circumstances in which Britain is embarking on a protracted military operation with no clear end in sight, Parliament must be formally consulted and a decision must be made by majority vote, before our country drifts

26 Jan 1999 : Column 147

into a conflict whose consequences and objectives are far from clear. Incidentally, there is also a real risk that such a conflict could undermine the United Nations. It is no good talking about the authority of the United Nations when three out of its five permanent members--Russia, China and France--are against the proposals. There are also real questions to be asked when UNSCOM, which I visited seven weeks ago in Baghdad, turns out to be a nest of spies.

Before we got deeper and deeper into what could so easily turn out to be a Vietnam-like conflict with Iraq, the pros and cons should have been hammered out on the anvil of parliamentary argument. Had that been allowed to happen, this question would have been asked to the point of tedious repetition: "What do we do after we have bombed and bombed and bombed?" If the phrase "keeping Saddam in his cage" has any meaning at all, it surely means "conducting a state of war for the foreseeable future".

As hon. Members who were here in the 1980s may recollect, I was no admirer of Mrs. Thatcher, but give her due: she at least agreed to, and possibly initiated, the recall of Parliament on 3 April 1982 to secure the imprimatur of the House before sending the fleet to the Falklands. In the case of Iraq--although it is arguable what the House agreed to in February 1998--that has not happened, at any rate not recently.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House who might take a diametrically opposite view from that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, the Bill's sponsors and other Labour Members on the substance of the Iraq issue could feel perfectly comfortable about voting for at least allowing discussion of a Bill that is about clarity of thinking on military objectives, and about the proposition that before men and women are asked to risk their lives there ought to be a decision by vote in a democratically elected Parliament.

Finally, and ironically, there is a reason why the Bill should commend itself to the Prime Minister: it gives him time--a breathing space--in his dealings with the President of the United States. If the President says, "Prime Minister, will you support a decision in favour of sustained bombing?", it is surely much better--

Next Section

IndexHome Page