establishment of the office of a Commissioner of Military Complaints is now an essential step in improving confidence, transparency and justice.
Regrettably, we did not have an opportunity to examine in detail new clause 4. When my hon. Friend the Minister considers the detail of the 34 recommendations that Nicholas Blake put forward, I urge him to consider especially his recommendation for an independent armed forces ombudsmansomeone who is genuinely independent and has power to investigate complaints.
Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituent, Norma Langford, whose son, Corporal Ian Holt, died in Belize on non-combat duty in 1991, would be thrilled were such an independent inspectorate set up? At present, such investigations are usually left to the special investigation branch of the military police. She would like the whole system to be open and transparent.
Mrs. Humble: As chair of the all-party group on Army deaths, I have met my hon. Friends constituent when she has attended meetings of the Deepcut and Beyond families group at Westminster. One of the most important things that I and other members of that group do is to meet families who have lost their loved ones. I am sure that Mrs. Langford would be pleased were such an armed forces commissioner and ombudsman set up.
I also advise my hon. Friend the Minister that Nicholas Blake says in his report that he has informally discussed the possible role of such a commissioner with commanding officers and others, and has understood that there is no objection in principle or practice to such independent oversight of the system, and nor is there concern that it will undermine military discipline. In further debate on this excellent Bill, I urge my hon. Friend to make it even better than it already is by introducing exactly such a system of independent oversight.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I welcome the Minister to his new role. I think that, given his performance today, he will be a formidable addition to the Defence team. I also welcome the process by which the Bill was examined. We went through reams of written evidence in the Select Committee, and also had an opportunity to examine witnesses. For me, however, one of the most important parts of the process was the Committees visit to Cyprus, Oman and Iraq, where we were able to speak to the guys and girls on the ground who would be influenced by and subject to the Bill.
We ask our armed forces to operate in dangerous places and we ask them to put their lives at risk, so it is obvious that they must obey orders from their commanding officers. It emerged clearly today that we cannot allow people to operate like maverick loners. I think that the best way to prevent that is to foster team work, and to make a joint commitment to a common goal. Team work is much more likely to be generated by trust, transparency and openness than by operation as a secret closed group.
Two issues became very clear to me as we debated the Bill. One was the removal of the power of the commanding officer to dismiss a case, which has been much debated this evening. It was also discussed extensively with serving personnel during our visits. I do not accept that it damages the chain of command; I think that it enhances the reputation of our armed services. It represents a willingness not just to ensure that serious cases are investigated properly but to ensure that they are seen to be investigated properly, so that our armed services are held in the high esteem that we know they deserve, not just in this country but on the world stage.
The second issue is the duty of care and redress of complaints, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble). We want our young people to choose the armed services as a valued career path where their capabilities will be stretched and their mettle will be tested, but where there is also a duty of care and an open and transparent redress procedure.
I represent a city with a long and proud history of its sons and daughters going to sea to defend our shores in armed service. I have a vested interest in ensuring the safety and security of my constituency, which in the past has been a military target, and in ensuring that my country is protected by an effective and professional armed service. However, I also have an interest in ensuring that individual serving soldiers, sailors and airmen are protected by a duty of care, and that potential recruits are not deterred by the perception of a bullying culture or complaints hidden under the carpet.
Despite the omission of an independent commissioner, which I hope will be discussed again when the Bill goes to another place, I believe that the Bill brings service discipline up to date. It reflects the modern worldthe very different threats that face us and our armed services and the highly visible theatre in which they now operate, with embedded journalists and images posted on websites and television stations. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Bills progress, and I hope that every Member will support it this evening.
That the draft Tax Information Exchange Agreement (Taxes on Income) (Gibraltar) Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 20th April, be approved. [Huw Irranca-Davies.]
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Botswana) Order 2006 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 20th April.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Japan) Order 2006 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 20th April. [Huw Irranca-Davies.]
That the draft Wireless Telegraphy (Pre-Consolidation Amendment) Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 27th April, be approved. [Huw Irranca-Davies.]
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 8413/06, Commission Communication: Amended Draft Directive on Services in the Internal Market; and supports the Governments approach to securing practical and proportionate legislation that promotes economic growth, competitiveness and job creation within the context of an Internal Market for Services. [Huw Irranca-Davies.]
That the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2006 (S.I., 2006, No. 1200), dated 28th April 2006 be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation. [Huw Irranca-Davies.]
That Mr Alistair Carmichael be discharged from the Public Accounts Committee and Dr John Pugh be added.
That Tim Farron be discharged from the Education and Skills Committee and Paul Holmes be added.
That Lynne Featherstone be discharged from the Environmental Audit Committee and Tim Farron be added. [Rosemary McKenna, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to discuss detention without trial at Guantanamo Bay. I am pleased to see the Minister for the Middle East, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), on the Front Bench tonight, and I am glad that so many other Members of the House have taken such a strong interest in this subject. I am particularly pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) here, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) hopes to join us later.
This is the fourth such debate to be held in the four years since the detention facility was established in early 2002, and the first since the release of the remaining British citizens a year ago. It takes place at an appropriate timeon the back of recent comments made by my right hon. and learned Friend Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, and of the publication last Friday, just in time for this debate, of the United Nations convention against tortures critical report on Guantanamo.
Also on Friday, I was sorry to hear of reports by the BBC and other news agencies that four detainees attempted to commit suicide, and that the efforts of prison guards to stop those attempts were met by violent resistance from other inmates. Sadly, it now appears that prolonged exposure to the conditions within the facility have caused the inmates to look to suicide as the only alternative. With that in mind, the recent speech of the Attorney-General deserves even greater consideration.
On 10 May, the Attorney-General used a speech to the Royal United Services Institute to make clear his opposition to the continued detention without fair trial of those imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Lord Goldsmith stated that the camp should be closed
as a matter of principle.
Although he made it clear that on this issue he was speaking in a personal capacity, as he is one of this countrys foremost and most respected legal expertsand, indeed, the Governments chief legal adviserhis speechs significance cannot be underestimated. We all know of his intellectual prowess and determination. When he spoke, he meant what he said.
The Attorney-Generals opinion is the most recent development concerning this subject. On 17 February, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), said that he would like to see the camp at Guantanamo Bay closed. Our Prime Minister, who has fostered an excellent relationship with the United States, has gone so far as to call the detention centre an anomalya view that he repeated at Question Time last week. Those three statements clearly reveal that the Government have not yet developed a coherent position on how the current situation should be resolved. Now is an excellent time for them to make such a statement.
Only two weeks ago, President Bush, during a visit to the United States by Chancellor Angela Merkel, stated
his desire to end detention at Guantanamo and to get the detainees into court. As everyone appears concerned, why is Guantanamo still open? The opinion of such figures clearly shows that the arguments about what has become known as Camp X-Ray are progressing in the same direction. Guantanamo cannot continue. Detention without trial at Guantanamo is not a necessary part of the global fight against extremism and fundamentalismalso known as the war against terrorism. Rather, it is counter-productive to the efforts of the international community.
The tragic events of 11 September clearly demonstrated how vulnerable open and democratic societies are to the threat of organised terrorist networks. The subsequent military campaign in Afghanistanfully supported by this Government, NATO and the United Nationsresulted in individuals suspected of belonging to the al-Qaeda network being captured by the American military forces. More than 600 of these alleged terrorists have been received in the detention facility since 2002. Although some 270 have since been released without charge, almost 500 still remain. These include 220 from Afghanistan, 119 from Saudi Arabia, 94 from Yemen, 57 from Pakistan and smaller numbers of men from 35 different countries. Although all eight British citizens have been released, there remain another eight men who claim to have long-term British residency permits.
I consider the United States to be a great friend and ally of this country, not merely through historical ties or present circumstances, but because of the very real values and interests that our countries share. As the Attorney-General remarked, the US is a great beacon of freedom, liberty and justice. That is the basis on which the strongest arguments can be made against the detention camp in its present form. Every day that those men are made to wait to face justice is a day that degrades the reputation of the US.
That reputation for fairness and equal treatment, whatever ones race, religion or ethnicity, is one of the greatest tools we have in the battle for the hearts and minds of millions across the world and in the face of propaganda by such organisations as al-Qaeda. In that context, the existence of Guantanamo Bay damages the efforts of the American and British Governments to isolate the terrorists and prevent them from recruiting further converts to their cause. It helps extremists to fuel perceptions that the US, and the west in general, targets Muslims and denies them their human rights.
The agenda of such extremist groups is obvious and can be discounted. What cannot be ignored is the list of independent and respected Governments and non-governmental organisations that have made clear their opposition to the camps existence. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has called for the camps closure. Organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been consistent in their condemnation. Amnesty is concerned at news of hunger strikes and suicide attempts by inmates and has called Guantanamo a moral disgrace, an emotional abyss for those affected and a legal black hole.
As I said earlier, it can be seen from the number of hon. Members in their places, including my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson), for Tooting, for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), for Hackney, North and
Stoke Newington and for Brent, South (Ms Butler), that this issue is of real concern. The legal arguments surrounding Guantanamo have become complex and polarised, with no consensus existing. None the less, it is a popular view, at least outside the US, that the basis for the detention camp rests on shaky legal foundations.
The right to fair trial without prolonged detention is a fundamental and well-established tenet of international law, which is explicit in articles 10 and 11 of the universal declaration of human rights and articles 14, 15 and 16 of the international covenant on civil and political rights. If it is argued that the laws of war apply, the Geneva convention has strict criteria governing the treatment that prisoners of war should receive.
The US Government argue that those prisoners are not in legal limbo but, pending a decision by the US Supreme Court, are nearing the time at which they will face trial before the military commission. Within the judicial process, it is claimed, the accused will have two opportunities to appeal to a fully civilian federal appeals court. However, that is not a reason to believe that the transportation of hundreds of individuals thousands of miles from their homelands and families and their imprisonment for years before trial is in any way justifiable.
Unfortunately, whatever the legal basis for the detention, the damage has been done. It is now a popular view in this country and other countries that the US Government have operated outside international law, with a clear disregard for the concerns of the international community and its closest friends.
In a series of statements from the State Department and the Department of Defence, the US has condemned the use of torture or inhumane techniques and pledged to prosecute any citizen found to have committed such acts. However, last week the United Nations committee against torture published its report on the detention policies of the US and judged them according to the convention against torture that the US ratified in 1994. The report concluded that the conditions for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay constituted torture and called for the camp to be closed as soon as possible.
Allegations of torture must be taken seriously. The right not to face torture or inhumane or degrading treatment is an absolute right. After the appalling images of torture at committed by soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, it is essential that the United States and our Government make every possible effort to make it clear that any such abuse is unacceptable and should not take place. Unfortunately, in the case of Guantanamo, the closed nature of the camp, where even UN officials were prevented from meeting detainees without first signing a confidentiality agreement, has ensured that serious allegations about treatment proliferate.