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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. With his long experience, the hon. Gentleman knows that he is trespassing outside the scope of the statement. He sought to table an urgent question, which was refused, and it is therefore unfair to attempt to raise the issue in a question to the Foreign Secretary now.
Mr. Straw: I am delighted to see my hon. Friend back in his place after his absence. He must make his own judgment about the circumstances in which I am making this statement. In the 26 years in which I have been in this House, however, I have heard some statements that compare with the one that I have just made. [Laughter.] The US Government must defend their own decisions. However, we are allies of the United States, so I shall offer an explanation of why they have come to those decisions and put the matter in context.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with the issue of assassination squads in a slightly less well-publicised meeting than thisthe cameras were not there and the journalists were outside. He said that we have seen no evidence whatsoever that the United States has employed assassination squads in Iraq, which we would not approve of. I happen to knowhere I am defending as well as explainingAmbassador John Negroponte, whom I regard as an international diplomat of the highest standing and integrity, and I am happy to defend that position against all comers.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con):
The Foreign Secretary knows that many thousands of Commonwealth nationals are ordinarily resident in this country, where, to all intents and purposes, they enjoy the rights of British citizens, in as much as they can vote and join the armed forces, police and civil service. Is he aware of any such individuals who are still in detention
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in Guantanamo Bay, and if so, how many? Finally, he drew a distinction between two of the four detainees to be returned. Were some of the detainees engaged in activities that would have led to their being taken prisoner of war in a declared state of war?
Mr. Straw: On the last point, the answer is for some, yes, and for some, no. The international conventions on the treatment of prisoners of warthe Geneva conventionswere designed before we faced the threat of international terrorism and failing states, so the instruments have not quite caught up with the new reality.
On the number of people detained, let me say, as there is obviously some suspicion that British citizens might be detained elsewhere, that I am absolutely certain that none is detained in Guantanamo Bay, and I know of no citizens detained in similar circumstances elsewhere. However, I am happy to follow that up for the benefit of the House to ensure that if there is any difference between what I recollect and the truth, a written ministerial statement will quickly be made to the House.
There will be some Commonwealth citizens detained in Guantanamo Bayincluding citizens of Pakistan, for exampleas well as some people who have a right to indefinite residence in this country. I cannot, from this Dispatch Box, give an estimate of the numbers, but I can tell the House that one detainee who is a citizen of Australia was today released to the Australians by the United States Government.
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend, who is right to put the issue in context. He mentioned the work of the Attorney-General, and I am sure that many of us at this end of the building would like to commend the work of our right hon. and learned Friend in securing this result.
Will the Government continue to insist that unless the United States applies international legal standards, in terms of detention and trial, whenever it detains Britons, the Government will continue to insist that they must ultimately be returned to this country to be dealt with?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. His commendation of the indefatigable work of our right hon. and learned Friend Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, is entirely well placed, as he has pursued this matter tirelessly.
Our position is always clear, and it is based on the principle that where people are detained they should either be tried in accordance with internationally accepted standards of justice or released to the United Kingdom. That is a clear principle that applies to every British citizen wherever he is potentially detained.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. I want to call everyone who is seeking to catch my eye, but there is other important business to come. I appeal to hon. Members to make their questions brief and to the Foreign Secretary to keep his answers brief.
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Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): By any measure, this has been a hideous abuse of human rights and international law. In the context of the special relationship, if it has taken us three years to get our citizens, what hope does the Foreign Secretary have for those of other countries; and will he condemn what has happened in Guantanamo Bay?
Mr. Straw: My reaction is a little differentI am pleased that at long last we have managed to secure the release of the nine British detainees. We do not approve of the circumstances of their detention, but it is important that we understand why the United States Government felt it necessary to make the detentions.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): Given that the Foreign Office rightly promotes democracy and human rights abroad all the time, what will the Foreign Secretary now do to ensure that in future nobody in Britain or among any of our democratic allies is held without charge or without conviction?
Mr. Straw: Our record on human rights is a very good one, and we will continue to pursue, with our close allies and everyone else in the international community, the need to ensure that all signatories to the human rights conventions apply them in practice as well as in theory.
Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): Is it not necessary to emphasise the fact that the real hero of the hour is the Attorney-General? He faced considerable personal public criticism last year when, after the US Government had made the offer that, once tried by some sort of tribunal, the men could serve their sentences here, he had the moral courage in the face of that criticism to say that those tribunals would not give men a fair trial, and that even on those terms he would not agree to their being tried unfairly. Is not he to be congratulated on that stand? Clearly, these men must now be investigated here.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con):
Abuse of power by Governments to the detriment of individuals must surely carry a greater consequence than simple loss of face or damage to reputation. Pursuant to the points very wisely raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), would not it send an invaluable signal if the
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Foreign Secretary, instead of simply saying, "If people come to us about compensation we will follow it up", he said, "There is no reason in principle why they should not receive compensation and every reason why they should"?
Mr. Straw: The answer is that compensation has to be a matter that is considered within United States and international law, not our own domestic law, so there is no point in my holding out hope that could then be dashed.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Would not it be useful for the British Government to say to the American authorities that those of us who are totally opposed to terrorism in all its forms and have the utmost sympathy and solidarity over 9/11 feel only contempt for the way in which detaineesnot only the British oneshave been held in Guantanamo Bay, which is a perversion of justice in every form and plays right into the hands of the terrorist networks? Would not it be useful to be frank and forthright over this?
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