Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Mullin: I cannot tell my hon. Friend on how many occasions the matter has come up, but it has come up repeatedly, and at all levels of the Government. I myself, in a previous incarnation, took part in a number

7 Jul 2003 : Column 757

of conversations on the subject. The Prime Minister made it clear from the outset that the situation of the detainees at Guantanamo bay is unsatisfactory and cannot continue indefinitely.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): In the eventuality that the American prosecuting authorities were to tell the British Government that these persons had been engaged in armed combat against British soldiers in Afghanistan, what would be the attitude of Her Majesty's Government? Would they ask the Americans to bring them back to this country for trial on charges of high treason?

Mr. Mullin: We are not going down that road for the moment. I was asked earlier about the jurisdiction under which the detainees are held and are to be tried. It is a US presidential order. As hon. Members probably know, the United States regards the detainees as enemy combatants and subject to US military regulations. Whether we agree with it or not, that is the position of the United States.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I, too, have three constituents among the detainees, and I share the concerns that have been raised about the proposed judicial procedures for the two who have been named. Have the US authorities given any indication yet about whether the three detainees from Tipton will be tried, and if so, under what judicial procedures?

Mr. Mullin: No, I am afraid that I do not have any information about plans to try my hon. Friend's three constituents. Only the six who have so far been mentioned, including the two British citizens, have been designated as liable for trial.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): While the interests of the British detainees are extremely important, and it is an outrage and a scandal that the Americans have treated Mr. Walker, an American citizen, differently from the others, the more profound issue here is that the whole way in which the Americans are conducting this business is a considerable defeat for the values that we are all seeking to defend against terrorism. Is it not about time that language such as "delicate and sensitive", "strong reservations", and "cause for concern" was abandoned in favour of the megaphone, to convince the Americans of the folly of their actions?

Mr. Mullin: No, I do not think that megaphone diplomacy ever works, so if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, we will not go down that road for the time being. It would not do the six individuals, or indeed the other prisoners at Guantanamo bay, the slightest bit of good. It might give the hon. Gentleman some temporary satisfaction, but it would not make the situation any better.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Minister agree that the Nuremberg and Tokyo military tribunals offer precedents for ways of dealing with people who have been accused both of atrocities and of waging illegal warfare? Would it not be a more

7 Jul 2003 : Column 758

constructive approach to the Americans to remind them of those precedents and of the fact that both those tribunals were held in the full glare of international publicity, with the defendants given every opportunity to put their side of the case?

Mr. Mullin: Yes, that point is well taken. There are a number of precedents for dealing with enemy combatants captured in this way, if that is what they are. However, the road chosen by the US is clearly set down, and we have to negotiate around that position.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the Minister remind the Americans that presidential orders are trumped by international law, and that all America's friends, while understanding the difficult and sensitive issues surrounding these issues, nevertheless deeply regret the harm being done to America's cause by their behaviour on this matter?

Mr. Mullin: Yes, I certainly will pass that on. Indeed, I shall pass to the American ambassador the record of our exchanges this afternoon, so that the Americans can see for themselves how strongly Members of the House feel about that.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Minister told us what the Americans say are their jurisdictional rights, but will he tell us clearly whether the British Government believe that every non-American citizen held in Guantanamo bay should be subject to some legal jurisdiction? If so, which jurisdiction—American, British or international law?

Mr. Mullin: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, people are currently in the custody of the Americans and American law is being applied. As I told the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) a moment ago, it is around that that we have to negotiate, and that is how it is going to be for the foreseeable future. I repeat that we have said repeatedly that the present position in Guantanamo bay—and, indeed, the proposed military tribunal—is not satisfactory, and that we believe that there are better ways of handling those matters.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): While it is important for the Minister to pass on to the Americans the spirit of this afternoon's exchanges, will he also tell the Americans that we understand why those people were detained and that it is important—on this occasion, as on others—to take the greater safety of the greater number into account?

Mr. Mullin: Yes, we all understand why those people were detained and that it is entirely right for them to face any legitimate charges against them. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it would be better if the entire process commanded international confidence, which is what we are pressing for.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): Is the Minister aware that The Economist reported in January that

7 Jul 2003 : Column 759

What efforts have the Government made to establish whether those reports are true, and what do such reports and the forthcoming trial say about the extent—or lack of it—of British influence over American policy at this time?

Mr. Mullin: Yes, I have read the reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers. British officials have paid five visits to assess the welfare of the half—dozen British citizens who are held at Guantanamo bay. Those detainees are obviously our prime concern and we have the greatest influence—hopefully—over their fate. We have taken a closer interest in the welfare of our citizens than any other country with detainees there, and we have also raised general issues about the way in which the Guantanamo bay detainees are held and treated and in the manner of their trial. I did, indeed, read the reports and I share the hon. Gentleman's concern.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I wholly share the concerns expressed throughout the House about the intolerable circumstances there, but is the Minister in a position to tell us whether any of the intelligence gained from the detainees will be any use in the war against terrorism?

Mr. Mullin: I regret that I am not in that position.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): In replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), the Minister went further than in other replies to say that he thought that America was in breach of the Geneva convention. Will he elaborate on what he said and also tell us what sanctions are available for countries in breach of that convention?

Mr. Mullin: I think that the hon. Gentleman's question concerns whether the Geneva convention should apply to the detainees, and I have already made it clear that, in our view, it should.

7 Jul 2003 : Column 760

Points of Order

3.59 pm

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Wednesday 7 May, I asked the Prime Minister:

He replied:

this is the key point—

However, in a written statement on Friday, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence said that

That news, of course, came as a devastating blow to the 10,000 people in my constituency whose livelihoods depend on RAF Lyneham. Does not that statement bring Prime Minister's Question Time into further disrepute, and have you had any indication from the Prime Minister that he intends to come to the House to make a personal apology for what was, by any standards, a substantially misleading remark?

Next Section

IndexHome Page