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Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central) (Lab): I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and his previous statement, and the efforts of the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister to ensure both a fair trial for, and the return of, British detainees, while guarding our national security.
My constituent, Feroz Abbasi, will not be sent home. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the reason is perceived risks to the public interest, based on intelligence reports? If that is the case, does my right hon. Friend accept that new powers available to the Government to protect people under the Terrorism Act 2000 and, indeed, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, mean that if Feroz Abbasi were on the street and put a foot wrong by association or sympathy, whether direct or indirect, with future or past terrorist acts through, for instance, a phone call or wearing a badge, he could immediately be arrested, charged and imprisoned? If he were released, he would be better off, as would the other detainees, writing his memoirs of Guantanamo Bay. That would be much more in his interest and that of al-Qaeda than posing a future risk to the British public.
Mr. Straw: I should like to applaud the assiduous way in which my hon. Friend has sought to represent the interests of his constituent and his family, who are understandably concerned about Mr. Abbasi's future. As I have already told the House, I am not going to offer views about the perceived risks posed by any of the individuals concerned because, by definition, that could have the effect of prejudicing future proceedings. As for new powers under terrorism legislation, the Terrorism Act 2000, which I introduced as Home Secretary, strengthened police powers, and legislation passed in 2001 by the Commons and the House of Lords has strengthened them further. However, to make a general point to my hon. Friend without specific reference to the detainees, those powers apply only where the police have evidence against individuals. It is the nature of terrorists, even more than ordinary criminals, to go to the most extensive lengths to avoid detection, not just at the point of committing acts of terrorism but prior to that by avoiding coming to the notice of the intelligence community. That is a basic challenge that the intelligence community and the police face in fighting terrorism.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): My constituent, Martin Mubanga, is one of the four remaining detainees in Guantanomo Bay, and I met his family last night. Is the Minister aware of their distress? They have had no
Mr. Straw: Of course I understand the families' distress. As negotiations reached a final stage last Wednesday and Thursday, I was all too conscious of the fact that five sets of families and a wider group of relatives and friends would be very pleased about the announcement, but that four sets would be distressed. It was for that reason, among many others, that I ensured, as far as was humanly possible, that the families and the Members representing them were contacted before I made a public announcement.
I entirely resist the criticism that the hon. Lady made at the end of her remarks, when she sought to criticise either me, as the person responsible, or my officials. Foreign Office staff have made every effort to pass on in detail information to the families as soon as it arrives, and we will continue to do so. It has not been sufficient, but we have had more contact with our detainees than, as I understand it, any other Governments have had with their nationals who are detained.
The issue of letters is one of concern, and we will continue to take it up through the International Committee of the Red Cross. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss further what other measures we can take.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): May I reiterate our thanks to the Foreign Secretary for his efforts to secure the release of the five detainees, three of whom are from my constituency? I thank him, too, for informing the families beforehand, as that was very much appreciated.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments that on their return the detainees will undergo a thorough police investigation and that any subsequent trial will conform with internationally accepted standards of justice. That is necessary both to reassure the public in this country and to give the detainees an opportunity to answer properly any charges against them.
My right hon. Friend will be aware, however, of the acute anxiety that the families have experienced over the past two years. They are obviously desperate to see their relatives again. Can he assure me that every effort will be made to keep the families informed at every stage of the proceedings, and that they will have the earliest possible access to their relatives, commensurate with national security?
As for the future, there will be a period before the releases. I am sorry, but I cannot say exactly when they will take place. I said on Thursday, and it remains the case, that they will take place within a few weeks. Within that time scale, I hope that it is sooner rather than later. As information becomes available and we can release it, we will make it available to the families first.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that I am a long-term friend and admirer of the United States, a country with which I have close family ties. However, I regard the detention and treatment of the detainees in the Guantanamo Bay camp as a lamentable departure from the rule of law and wholly inconsistent with the fine traditions of the United States. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that view is widely shared in this country and, if he does, will he ensure that the United States Administration understand that and recognise the damage that they are doing to their reputation?
Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman's opinions on this matter are well known, and although such feelings are not unanimousopinions differ greatlyI assure him that the United States Government are fully aware of the strength of opinion on the issue.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): May I, too, pass on my thanks to the Foreign Secretary for the keen attention that he has given the matter over the past two years and his courtesy last week in making sure that the families and their Members of Parliament were informed? As he is aware, my constituent, Jamal al-Harith, is one of those who, happily, will be released, but I share concerns expressed by Members on both sides of the House about the events of the past two years and, indeed, the future facing the four who will not be released. Such action may be understandable in emotional terms, but it is not acceptable in terms of legal propriety. My constituent experienced a form of kidnap, and naturally the family were extremely unhappy about that.
I know that my right hon. Friend will not want to go into great detail, but there are issues about, for example, access to legal representatives, to the families, which is important, and perhaps to qualified medical staff. Can he assure me that those will be immediately available to individuals on their return to the United Kingdom?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about the way in which the matter has been handled. It is a difficult situation, and again I would like to put on record my appreciation for the way in which he has performed his duty in representing his constituent and his family.
My hon. Friend asked me about access to legal representation, the availability of qualified medical assistance anda point that was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey)access by families when they arrive here. The Terrorism Act 2000, as amended, provides powers to the police, where they have grounds for doing so, to detain terrorist suspects and to interview them for an initial period of two days, which can be extended, through successive applications to a court, to 14 days. However, as is absolutely right, subject to what is laid down in law, individuals have access to lawyers, as well as to their families. There are constraints on that, but they are the normal constraints for suspects who are suspected of any terrorist-related activity under the Terrorism Act, as amended.