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Guantanamo Bay Detainees

20. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with her counterparts in the United States concerning the fate of UK citizens held in Guantanamo bay. [181617]

The Solicitor General: The Attorney-General last had discussions with his counterparts in the US about Guantanomo bay in February 2004. Following discussions with the US led by the Attorney-General, the UK Government concluded on the basis of his views that the US military commission process would not provide sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards. The UK Government's position remains that the British detainees should either be tried fairly in accordance with international standards or be returned to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Prentice: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her reply. In a landmark decision, the American Supreme Court said that the detainees can challenge their detention without trial in Guantanamo bay in the United States courts. Will the British Government act on behalf of the four UK citizens and take their case to the American courts?

The Solicitor General: We are not yet aware whether or not any applications have been made on behalf of the British detainees. As for the US Supreme Court judgment, it was very recent and we are considering its implications.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice)? He is entirely right—unless the British Government rally round and give the detainees assistance in Supreme Court proceedings or elsewhere the relief will be fairly lame, so I hope that the Solicitor-General listens sympathetically to the hon. Gentleman.

The Solicitor General: The House has heard the points made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), and those matters are all under active consideration. If there is something to be announced, it will be announced, but I cannot say anything other than that the matter is under consideration.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon) (LD): But that is simply not good enough. So much time has elapsed, and those people have been unlawfully detained for an extremely long time. We want to know what action the Attorney-General will take. He made his views known last week in a speech at the Cour de Cassation, and was right to say:

He went on to criticise the proposed military tribunals at Guantanamo bay. Action is now called for, and we must know what he is doing. The House would also like to
 
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know whether he believes that the detainees are entitled to damages for unlawful imprisonment compounded by a lack of fair representation and a fair trial.

The Solicitor General: Perhaps I can just step back, as I know the whole House appreciates the Attorney-General satisfying himself as to whether or not the way in which the US authorities plan to deal with the British citizens detained in Guantanamo bay accords with international law. It wanted him to make that decision impartially on the evidence in the case and give his advice clearly and straightforwardly. I am sure that it appreciates the fact that, as he formed the view that the proposals for dealing with the detainees did not comply with international law, attempts have been made to negotiate with the US authorities to persuade them to change the way in which they intend to deal with the detainees so that they are treated in accordance with international law. Progress was made and at least five detainees were released. I know that the whole House welcomes that.

I know the House would also agree that pressure should continue to be exerted on the US authorities to try and resolve the position of the remaining four detainees and that we should remain clear about our position, which we have done. In the meantime, I know the House welcomes the fact that consular activity has ensured that close contact has been kept with the detainees. We try to maintain contact and support them.
 
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At the end of the day, they are being held by the US authorities. We have said that we are not satisfied with that and we keep further action under review.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Does the Solicitor-General agree that in the context of a trial by a military tribunal, it ought to be possible for such a trial to take place in compliance with international standards, including independent representation, an independent element on the tribunal, proper procedure and a proper ability to assess evidence? Those standards are common to our common law jurisdiction and that of the United States. Have the US Government advanced any argument to explain why they cannot meet those minimum standards in the type of tribunal that they want to set up?

The Solicitor General: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we have made it clear to the US authorities what we consider the international standards to be. They have not been prepared to accede to that. They have, however, been prepared to suspend bringing the UK detainees before the military commission because of our strong representations to the effect that we did not consider them to be guaranteeing a fair trial in accordance with international law. There is no difference on that between any of us in the House. The Government and the Attorney-General have made their position clear, but at the end of the day we have to persuade the US authorities to return the detainees if they are unprepared, as at present they appear to be, to afford them a fair trial according to international standards.


 
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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 5 July—Opposition Day [15th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "Government Failure to Deliver Improved Postal Services", followed by a debate entitled "Personal Indebtedness and Savings". Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Tuesday 6 July—Motions to approve Ways and Means resolutions on the Finance Bill followed by progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill (Day One). Followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 7 July—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill (Day Two).

Thursday 8 July—Debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee annual report 2003–04 on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 9 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 12 July—Consideration of Lords amendments. As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement on the comprehensive spending review.

Tuesday 13 July—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 14 July—Remaining stages of the Patents Bill [Lords]. Followed by a debate on public expenditure on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 15 July—Consideration of Lords amendments.

Friday 16 July—Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Heald: I thank the Leader of the House for the business.

May we have an urgent oral statement about the recent capture and denigration of our servicemen in Iran? Why was such an important issue dealt with only in a written statement?

Can we debate the draft Bill on regional assemblies before the recess so that the public can judge the proposals before the referendums?

Can we have a statement about new Government policy on mobile phone masts? The Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and that of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) are both being blocked by the Government. My early-day motion 1231 calls for protection, as do those two Bills, to keep phone masts away from schools.

[That this House notes that on 31st March a petition from Sandra Cole and 1632 other residents of Royston, Hertfordshire was presented expressing their dismay at the decision of NTL to site a mobile phone mast in Stamford Avenue, Royston; expresses its concern that
 
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NTL have so far ignored public opinion and actually erected the mast the day after the petition was presented; and calls on the Government to give more control over phone masts and antennae to local communities through planning procedures and local councillors to ensure that councillors are able to take account of the proximity of schools and the health fears of local residents.]

If the Leader of the House agrees with that, is he able to announce a Government change in the law? If not, how does he justify Labour's leaflet in the Birmingham, Hodge Hill by-election, which attacks the Liberal Democrat as a

and states:

Why have not the Government done something about it then?

Continuing, if I may, with the election theme, when can we expect a statement, as promised yesterday by the Prime Minister, on the appointment of Electoral Commission observers for the two by-elections? The Birmingham Post today reports that a second election petition alleging postal ballot fraud against Labour councillors has been lodged in the High Court. It says:

Concern has been expressed in all communities, including in The Muslim News, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) has spoken out condemning the bribery and bullying involved in those elections. As I expect we will hear later today, and rightly so, Ministers are willing to condemn Robert Mugabe for not having election observers, so should they not be setting an example in these by-elections?

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill started in the other place and since it has come here the Government have tabled a series of late amendments on a real ragbag of other matters. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman explain to his colleagues in government that they should at least have some idea in advance of what they want to put in a Bill? Could he not make that a new Labour commandment? I think it may be the 12th, after "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's job."


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