David Winnick: It was deplorable that no action was taken to stop the massacre, mainly of Muslims, in Bosnia. Was it not therefore all the more appropriate for the British Government, with the essential support of the US, to take the action that they did in Kosovo? Incidentally, that action gives the lie to claims that we are anti-Muslim. If we were anti-Muslim, why did we act as we did in 1999?
Martin Linton: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and also pay tribute to him for the consistency with which he has spoken in favour of the UN taking stronger action in respect of a host of issues. He has done so for many years, and long before I entered the House. He is quite right: no action was taken in Bosnia, Kosovo or Afghanistan, and there was a failure to take any action in Iraq. Some may argue that the UN would have taken action in Iraq in the end but, after 12 years of inaction, it is difficult to believe that it would have ever got around to it.
However, I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who said that regime change was unacceptable. It is acceptable, and we should press for a change in the UN charter to allow the UN to intervene in cases such as those that have been described. I do not want the UN to stand powerless on the sidelines when genocide is taking place.
I believe that we must use all the resources available to us in the fight against international terrorism. One proposal in the Queen's Speech will play an important role in that fight. I would never suggest that identity cards are a panacea that would stop international terrorism in its tracks. Indeed, it has been shown that they would have made no difference in the attack on the World Trade Centre, but the lack of identity cards in this country has created many problems, such as ID fraud and multiple applications for benefits. Those problems are very difficult to stamp out without absolute tests of a person's identity.
To a large extent, the lack of identity cards has exacerbated the illegal immigration problem. When I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee, we found that people from the Sangatte centre cited the lack of any internal checks here as one of their main reasons for coming to this country. Once they were in this country, the prospect was that they would have no problem in staying here.
The lack of identity cards has never been portrayed as a crucial factor in illegal immigration, but it certainly is a contributory factor. Most asylum seekers in my constituency tell me that identity cards would be of
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enormous benefit to them. People who try to apply for a driving licence and renew their passports at the same time have found that impossible because they have to send their passports to the Home Office, where it stays for six months. It is much simpler for people to have an application and registration card that proves their identity electronically, and which does not have to be sent all over the place.
Equally, many families of Indian or African descent have problems with entry visas for this country. The entry clearance officers in our embassies and high commissions abroad will not give entry visas to many categories of people, including young people with no jobs, people who do not own a house and people who are not married, because there is no way to check whether they return to their country of origin once they have spent their six months in this country. We have no way to check whether someone has returned to their country.
ID cards could thus be of enormous benefit not only to people who have lived here for a long time, but to those who have recently arrived. That was why I suggested to the Home Affairs Committee the idea of entitlement cards. That suggestion was taken up by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and has now found its way into the identity card Bill. It is a good proposal, although it emphasises too much the conveniences of ID cards to the Government and not enough the value of an ID card to the individual[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) may laugh, but once the cards are in circulation he will see that they are immensely popular. People claim that the cards will be foisted on them, but the cards will be very useful.
For example, let us consider the complications involved in renewing a road tax disc. One has to produce four or five documents from different Departments all at the same time and take them to the post office or post them off and wait for them to come back. Identity cards, combined with website technology, will make it possible to have certificated copies of one's private documents sent to a Department without needing to move from one's house. That is an example of the benefits that ID cards will bring.
I understand people's anxiety and trepidation about ID cards, but 79 per cent. of the populationaccording to Home Office figuresare in favour of them. All ethnic minorities show a majority in favour of the cards. If they are not concerned about them, there is no point in people being concerned on their behalf. They are perfectly capable of making a judgment about whether the cards will be in their interest.
The Government are right to say that safety and security must be pursued. Those issues rightly take up a large part of the Queen's Speech. On the issue of foreign affairs, we must recognise that while security is very important, a safe world is a just world. We cannot have complete safety in international affairs unless people feel that they live in a just world or one that is at least striving to achieve justice. In the end, stopping terrorism can be achieved only by stopping the causes of terrorism.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD):
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton). Although I did not agree with everything that he said,
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I strongly endorse his comments about the situation in Israel-Palestine. The situation is intolerable for many Palestinians, especially those families who have been cut off by the building of the wall, perhaps from other members of their families or community. We have to recognise that free movement across the wall is not possible. When we call for democratic elections following the death of Yasser Arafat, we should remember than many people are unable to move across the wall and may be unable to vote. That is a very worrying situation and we must call for the strongest possible action against Israel. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) has called elsewhere for the special EU trading agreements to be withdrawn, as a possible sanction, but we must look at all options to ensure that Israel withdraws from the occupied territories.
Today I wish to speak about two issues that were raised in the Gracious Speech. First, I shall speak briefly about several issues in Iraq, including security and stability in that country and progress towards elections in January. Secondly, I shall talk about international co-operation on terrorism, with specific regard to two constituents of mine who are in Guantanamo Bay.
I begin with Iraq. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife said earlier today, Liberal Democrats bitterly opposed the war. We believe that military action should not have been taken because it violated international law and was based on a false prospectus. No weapons of mass destruction have been found and the serious and present danger that we were warned about has been shown not to exist. My right hon. and learned Friend spoke of the long shadow of Iraq and of the violence and instability that is still cast over Iraq, but it has also been cast over the UK and UK politics. I fear that irreparable damage has been done to trust in politics in this country as a result of that military action.
Although we would not have started from this point, all parties entirely agree that it is vital that the elections in January take place, to begin the process of rebuilding the country. However, there are serious practical concerns about whether the elections will be possible and they need to be addressed; for example, the UN estimates that Iraq will need about 30,000 polling stations nationwide and an electoral staff of about 120,000, but those arrangements have yet to be put in place.
The UN presence in Iraq is currently very limited for security reasons. The Iraqi Foreign Minister criticised the UN for its reluctance to send large numbers of staff to Iraq, but who can blame it when the situation is so dangerous? Those matters need to be addressed urgently if the elections are to take place in January.
The election date30 Januaryis in the middle of Hajj, when millions of Muslims are likely to be crossing overland from Iraq through Afghanistan and Iran. How will the coalition forces ensure that insurgents are not present? Will that affect the security arrangements?
I asked the Secretary of State what would be done to ensure that refugees from Falluja who had fled before the coalition action there were registered to vote and able to vote. He said that they are able return to their homes, but that answer was woefully inadequate. Many
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cannot return to their homes because they have no homes to go to and we do not know where they are. The Secretary of State said that many were staying with family and friends. However, even in this country where movements of people are entirely predictablefor example, students departing from a cityit is difficult to ensure that everyone takes up their democratic right to vote. How on earth can we believe that people in Falluja will have that opportunity? As the coalition action was taken to ensure that those people would have the democratic right to vote, it would be terrible if they, of all people, found themselves unable to exercise that right.
I want to touch on the situation of failed asylum seekers in this country. In February, the Government announced that, from April 2004, they would deport failed asylum seekers. Last week, a constituent visited me. He is a dentist who has been in the UK since 1999 and has qualified with the General Dental Council. We all know that there is a terrible lack of dentists in this country, so his skills would be a welcome addition to our public service. However, he lost several appeals and has had his right to benefits withdrawn, which is the normal occurrence. He has also had the right to work withdrawn, so he has no means of support, yet he cannot be deported to Iraq because the security situation is such that it would be unsafe to send him there. That seems complete nonsense. The Home Office must sort things out to ensure that people who remain in the UK because they are unable to return to their country can at least support themselves if they are willing to do so.
I turn to the situation in Guanatamo Bay, where two of my constituents are detained: Martin Mubanga, who has dual Zambian-British nationality and Jamil el-Banna, who holds a Jordanian passport but was granted political refugee status by the Government and has lived in this country for many years. His wife and their five children are also my constituents. Neither of those two constituents, contrary to popular belief, was picked up in Afghanistan. Martin Mubanga was arrested in Zambia and Jamil el-Banna was arrested in Gambia.
The Foreign Secretary very kindly agreed to meet me, with Martin Mubanga's sister, earlier this year. Martin's family still have no information about why he was arrested in Zambia or about the circumstances in which he was handed over to the Americans. As far as they are concerned, he was visiting his aunt in Zambia, and a matter of weeks later they were told that he had been picked up and incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. When I met the Foreign Secretary, I asked him on behalf of the family to investigate the circumstances of Martin's arrest in Zambia and the process that was followed when he was handed over by Zambian officials to American officials.
The Foreign Secretary explained that, as Martin was travelling on a Zambian passport at the time, his officials were unable to make that kind of diplomatic inquiry, but he assured me that he would use what influence he has to find out what happened. I have had no information since and neither have the family. They are very anxious to find out about the circumstances surrounding Martin's arrest, simply to put the pieces together. Imagine the crisis that the family feel. I cannot
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imagine what it must feel like not to know what happened to their brother or why he is in Guantanamo Bay.
The six-monthly visits by Foreign Office officials to Martin have been almost the only contact that the family have had with him. He has made various allegations of mistreatmentin particular, that he has been the subject of hot and cold treatment, and I am sure that hon. Members will be aware that similar allegations have been made by other people. He also explained that, when he was interrogated, he was shackled to the floor and told that he was not allowed to go to the toilet. He consequently wet himself and was forced to clean up after himself. That kind of degrading, humiliating treatment is completely unacceptable; if it were to take place in any jail in this country, I am sure that there would be hell to pay.
Foreign Office officials said that they raised those matters with the US authorities, which claimed that they were unfounded, but we have no independent means to check what happened and the family are not reassured by what has been said. Martin has faced consistent problems in gaining access to dental treatment. He has had various problems while he has been at Guantanamo Bay, and he claims that he has lost a considerable amount of weight. For a period, no mail at all got through to his family. Even when mail did get through, when Foreign Office officials were visiting, he was allowed to read the mail from his family with the officials there, but the mail was then supposed to be checked by security and passed to him for him to keep. However, as the Foreign Office reports show, that was often not the case and his mail was never passed to him.
In all of that, Martin has not lost that element of who he is, which has reassured his family. When one official asked him last year whether he would like to pass any message back to his family, Martin asked for the following to be passed on:
That is filled with bitter pathos, but we can see that he has not lost his sense of humour. Whatever that man has or has not donewe do not knowhe is entitled to a fair trial and his family are entitled to know what has happened to him.
Martin's family are extremely frustrated that no progress appears to have been made with his case. As I said earlier, they still have no information about why he was arrested. Although intelligence information about other detainees has been leaked to the British press, no information about what Martin is supposed to have done has got out, and his family do not know why he has been detained. They are perhaps most worried about the comments made by the Prime Minister on his recent visit to Washington, when he suggested that there had been security breaches by those who had been released into this country. The family are justifiably concerned that any action by those who may have been released could jeopardise Martin's case for release. That would be a
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complete contravention of basic standards of justice, whereby each person should be considered on their own merit.
If the family of Martin Mubanga have had very little information about him, the family of Jamil el-Banna have had even less. He is a Jordanian, albeit one who has lived in this country for many years, and the Foreign Office says that it has no influence over his case. He is in diplomatic no-man's land. He has now been out of the country for more than two years, putting him in breach of the normal rules on his indefinite leave to remain. His family would like to know what will happen to that leave. Will the normal rules be applied and will he lose his right to stay, or will they be waived, given that he has been away from the country through no desire of his own?
The position gets worse. In answer to questions in the House of Lords about Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi and the US's stated intention that, if they were ever to be released, they would be deported to their own countries, the UK said that this was merely a matter for the US. That is obviously nonsense. Jamil el-Banna was given refugee status because there was a very real threat of torture that was recognised by the British Government. For him to be deported to Jordan would be complete nonsense and absolutely appalling. I hope that the British Government will make the strongest possible call to make sure that that does not happen.
The continued incarceration of British citizens and others in an American jailwithout charge, without trial, without proper access to lawyers and without access to, or contact with, their familiesis a complete affront to justice. The fact that the country that is violating the most basic standards of justice loves to evangelise about the rule of law and human rights to the rest of the world is perhaps the most galling of hypocrisies. Irrespective of what these prisoners have been accused oflet us remember that they have only been accused and not in publicthey are entirely entitled to a fair trial, to put their case and to have it heard. The continued failure of our Government to secure that for their citizens leads us to question whether there is anything very special about our relationship with the United States.