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Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to speak in this Christmas Adjournment debate. Christmas is a time for families, and I want to spend a few moments this afternoon reminding the House of the position of the families of the British nationals who are still detained in Guantanamo Bay.
As Members of the House know, the United States continues to detain hundreds of people in its naval facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The first of them were transferred there towards the end of 2001, so a number have been there for over three years. Originally there were nine UK nationals held in Guantanamo Bay. Fortunately, earlier this year five of them were released, but there are still four British passport holders there. They include Martin Mubanga, Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg and Richard Belmar. Martin Mubanga, Feroz Abbasi and Richard Belmar are based in London, and I have had the privilege of meeting their families. The House of Commons needs to imagine what those families are going through this Christmas knowing that their loved ones are holed up in Guantanamo Bay with no immediate prospect of release.
As the US lawyer of one of the British detainees has said, these are individuals who have suffered a great deal of physical abuse, stress and torture, becauseand this is the main point that I want to make to the Houseall the evidence suggests that torture is going on in Guantanamo Bay. The essential position is this: by these detentions the United States Government have made a deliberate attempt to create a legal black hole into which they can place any foreigner for as long as they choose. The theory developed by Pentagon lawyers was that detainees held at Guantanamo could be treated entirely as the Executive saw fit. Indeed, in argument in the federal courts, the lawyer appearing for the United States authorities asserted that even torture, if it was perpetrated by the US authorities at Guantanamo, would not fall within the jurisdiction of civilian courts.
When the lawyer said that, the world did not know about the scandal of Abu Ghraib, but it is now clear that the disgraceful conduct there had its roots in an
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interrogation system first developed and used at Guantanamo, and still, as far as we know, being used there. The techniques used there, as has come out in recent months, include stress; duress; manipulation by subjecting detainees to extremes of light and heat; threatening with dogs; attempts to force detainees to sign false statements; sexual assault; stripping; lengthy interrogation of detainees while they are shackled to the floor like dogs; failure to allow detainees to use toilet facilities with the result that they excrete on themselves; chaining detainees in a hog-tie position; mocking detainees' religious beliefs; and withholding basic items such as clothing and blankets.
It is no wonder that the Red Cross, which has the most access to the people held in Guantanamo, has dubbed that treatment torture. The treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including the four British nationals to whom I referred, flouts every major human rights convention that the US and Britain have signed since the second world war. It also subverts the fundamental protections of liberty dating as far back as the 13th century and the Magna Carta. The Bush Administration, despite the findings of their own Supreme Court, continue to evade the application of any due process to the detainees. Guantanamo is the United States' domestic gulag.
We know from those British detainees who have been released, the young men who lived in Tipton, what is the US authorities' approach to evidence and confession. Two of the British detainees released, Rasul and Iqbal, had, according to the Americans, confessed to meeting Osama bin Laden and appearing in a video with him. Fortunately for them, MI5 established that their confessions, which the US insisted were genuine and could be the basis of a prosecution, were not only unreliable but false because there was a video showing that the two men, far from meeting Osama bin Laden, were working in a shop in Birmingham at the time. We can only imagine the sort of torture to which the two young men were subjected to force them to make confessions that could have resulted, had they not been released, in their losing their lives. We can only imagine the current conditions for British nationals and others who although not British nationals were British residents, and who are still held in Guantanamo Bay.
Even when one talks to Ministers, one encounters misconceptions about what is happening at Guantanamo Bay. One of the most common things one hears about the British nationals held at Guantanamo is that they are people who were in the wrong place at the wrong timewhat were they doing in Afghanistan in the first place? It is important to note that two of them were not in Afghanistan at all: Martin Mubanga was arrested in Zambia and Moazzam Begg in Pakistan. The notion that George W. Bush and some Ministers like to put about, that the detainees were scooped from the killing fields of Afghanistan, is quite false. In that context, it is also important to remember that, at the commencement of the Afghanistan conflict, there was in the country a large community of aid workers and religious pilgrims who had no military intent. When the American forces offered huge financial rewards to local Afghans in exchange for the capture of foreign fighters, many of those peoplesimply because they were foreign, not because they had anything to do with al-Qaedawere scooped up and handed over to obtain the money.
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As for the security threat posed by the detainees, three years after America put them behind bars it seems clear that the only information coming out of Guantanamo Bay has been extracted in the form of confessions. Against the background of international organisations categorising the interrogation techniques used there as "tantamount to torture", and given that the confession made by Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal was proved to be false by MI5, there is real reason to believe that no weight can be attached to the information and that, furthermore, the confessions would not stand up in a court of law.
There was a time when no British Government would have stood by and allowed British nationals to be detained for so long without being charged and with no prospect either of being charged or of due process. No one is suggesting that the men should simply be released; all that is being suggested is that, as British nationals, they are entitled to due process. Yet despite the fact that Britain is supposed to be America's closest ally in the war against terrorism, we cannot even obtain due process for our own nationals. I believe that Guantanamo Bay, like Abu Ghraib, undermines the moral case presented for the war against terror.
I would not want to leave the subject of America's very own gulag without mentioning Belmarsh. We have heard what our own judges have had to say about the Muslim detainees at Belmarsh prison. At the weekend, newspapers reported that the evidence on which they are being held is mostly based on hearsay and guilt by association. I can do no better than quote what a Member of the other place said about the laws that led to the detention of those people in Belmarsh. Lord Hoffman said:
Whether the people in question are British nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay or the unfortunates detained in Belmarsh under laws that our own judges have stated are contrary to the European convention on human rights, it cannot be right, nor can it strengthen our war against terror, to hold people indefinitely without charging them or allowing them access to proper legal representation, and without due process. In the case of Guantanamo, we cannot ignore the serious allegations of torture. We, the British Parliament, must not let another Christmas go past with British nationals being held in that gulag in Cuba without due process and in the shadow of torture.
As Christmas approaches, I shall speak about the hospice movement and especially about fair funding. I have raised the issue many times in the House, as hon. Members may recall. I shall continue to do so until there is a satisfactory solution. The national average statutory funding level for adult hospices is about 28 per cent., for children's hospices it is 5 per cent. and for Littlehaven's children's hospice in my constituency it is 1.8 per cent. This is wrong.
It is outrageous that the Government have tried to shift responsibility to primary care trusts. The Government must at least have the courage to admit to
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their own policy on hospice funding. Their policy, and the solution to that policy, lies entirely within Government control, yet they refuse to use their powers to change this untenable situation. Littlehaven gets 1.8 per cent. funding from the Exchequerthat is a shameful and almost an insulting amountyet there are no limits on spending on bogus asylum seekers: social support alone has grown to more than £1 billion from about £400 million since Labour took power in 1997, while funding for my local hospice has fallen over that same period. Local people are aware of these facts.
The Prime Minister has acknowledged that 1.8 per cent. is unacceptable for my hospice, but he has done nothing, after years of my raising the matter with him personally. We are grateful, of course, for short-term fixes such as lottery money and single time-limited grants, but we need more than that. We need long-term core funding that is guaranteed, which we from the voluntary and charitable sectors can supplement through our fund-raising activities.
Conservative policy is to make available 40 per cent. funding for both adult and children's hospices, and I urge Labour to match that. If it does not, I do not see why anyone in Castle Point should vote for its parachuted-in candidate on 5 May. Politics aside, we can all admire the dedication, care and love of all those who work in the hospice movement. Similarly, we admire those volunteers who raise funds to support it. We can all thank the pressthe Yellow Advertiser, the Evening Echo and the Island Timesfor their campaigns to support our hospices and fair funding.
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) talked about demolition development, increased densities and destroying communities and well-designed settlements. I could not agree more with him, but he seems not to have made the House aware that the greatest demolition developer of them all in the south-east is the Government. The Government are seeking to destroy our environment and urban spaces by forcing on my community in Castle Point, for instance, an additional 4,000 houses. There are massive building plans throughout Essex, which is a betrayal of the people of Essex.
The Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for increasing building targets. He seems not to understand that this building will bring in hundreds of thousands of cars throughout Essex. There will be more sewage and waste to be disposed of along with more demand on hospitals, dentists, schools and police. There will be more pollution. This adds up to a disaster for Essex and for my community of Castle Point. That is the key reason why locals will be voting against the parachuted-in Labour candidate at Castle Point, to frustrate the Government's plans to build on our open spaces.
A key local issue is law and order. Under-age drinking is an important factor in antisocial behaviour. I am delighted that what was my private Member's Bill is now one of the most used Acts. Probably it is used almost every day and every night in most constituencies throughout the country. It is a key and indispensable weapon to enable society to deal with antisocial behaviour and street crime. I congratulate the Government on introducing antisocial behaviour orders, which are a key weapon, and also on the
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exclusion orders and curfew orders, which we in my constituency were one of the first communities to use, and we have used them extremely successfully, but there are two little problems developing.
When young hooligans or thugsyoung kids who are bit misguided, as I was when I was a youngsterare given an ASBO and they breach it seriously, the courts must come down on them like a ton of bricks. If the courts give them 20 hours' community service and it has taken the police 120 hours to prepare the case and get it to court, that is a joke and does not give the right message to the other misguided kids who are going the wrong way. I would like to see the courts take much more decisive action. A few custodial sentences to some of the young thugs who take early action to breach their orders would send a strong message to all the others, and the orders will work a lot better.
The second aspect is legal aid. The Government will not tell us how much or by how many people, but legal aid is being used so that young thugs can resist antisocial behaviour orders and to appeal them when they are given. That is a misuse of public funds, time and effort, and we should be developing new systems. I know that the Government have taken the matter on board, and if they need to introduce measures in the House to deal with these matters I hope that those will receive a fair wind from the whole House.
On law and order, I must mention that funding for Essex police is not what it should be. In order simply to stand still, Essex police force needs another £2 million. I see the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who is as always in his place, nodding agreement, and I thank him for that.
One of the key duties of a Member of Parliament is to care for and be an advocate for vulnerable people. One of the most vulnerable groups is the sick and frail elderly, particularly those who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and motor neurone disease, and from the impact of strokes. I note that this week the health service ombudsman brought out a report entitled "NHS Funding for Long Term Care". It is a follow-up to the report published in February 2003. The new report takes forward the work that was done in the earlier one, which found:
"Some disabled, frail or elderly people, who were in fact eligible, had . . . been denied funding of their health care and accommodation by the NHS and had paid for means-tested services arranged by their local authority."
That has not happened as extensively as it might have done. It is not entirely the Government's fault, but they need to refocus on the issue and ensure the Department of Health is doing all it can to achieve that. The new report makes it clear that sufficient efforts have not been made to trace all those people, and those efforts should now be made.
The report also recommends that the Department of Health should review its guidance, making it much clearer who is eligible for funding. That is what the 2003 report stated, but the new report found that the Government did not do this. I am sure that they will
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study the report and try to redress the problem. The new report states:
I have a major case in my constituency that I have raised on Adjournment debates on a couple of occasions and through many, many questions. I refer to the case of Derek Curran, which has been covered a number of times in the local press and in the national pressin the Daily Mail two weeks ago, for instance. His care is now being paid forit should have been paid for years agobut his family have not yet had restitution. That must be paid. The case must be looked at, and all the other cases that are looking to it for guidance will then be able to follow.
It is entirely appropriate for the House to try to defend vulnerable people as we approach Christmas, and there is no more vulnerable group than the homeless in society, so I congratulate Shelter, the Salvation Army and all the other people who work with the homeless. I wish them in particular a happy Christmas.
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