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Mike Gapes: I am not sure whether the Minister is aware that I have entered correspondence with the new Foreign Secretary on that point. The Select Committee has yet to receive a response, but there is a letter from the Committee to the Foreign Secretary on the respective roles of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is not a Committee of the House, but is appointed by the Prime Minister, and the role of Select Committees, which are Committees of the House and chosen by the House. I hope that we will soon have a response from the Government to that letter.

Mr. McCartney: I am sure that there will be because, as in all issues relating to such matters, we want to keep Parliament, including the Select Committee, properly informed at each stage. The former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), kept Parliament fully informed as and when additional information became available as a result of research into records going back to May 1997.

I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South said about drip-feeding, but we could argue about whether it is drip-feeding or a continuous flow of information. I have no doubt whatever that the Secretaries of State involved—the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport—operated effectively, and did so as soon as they possibly could, on all occasions when they had information that would be helpful to people’s inquiries, whether made through parliamentary questions or reports. That is important.

Sir John Stanley: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McCartney: I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South, asked about rendition cases. I will comment on some cases, and if they are the wrong ones, I am sure that he will tell me about it, and then I will write to him. In the cases of el-Banna and el-Rawi, we did not request the detention, and we played no role in their transfer to Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Benyam Mohammed Al Habashi was interviewed once by a member of the security services in Karachi in 2002, but the security services had no role in his capture or transfer from Pakistan. I hope that that is helpful to my hon. Friend.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. McCartney: I will give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South and then to the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling.

Mike Gapes: I will wait for a letter on the case that I mentioned with regard to Gambia, as I do not think that the Minister has referred to it.

Mr. McCartney: Thank you; I apologise.

Sir John Stanley: While the Minister is on the subject, will he respond to the important question asked by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn)? The Minister gave the Chamber the clear assurance that
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the agreements between the American and British Governments required the American Government and their agencies to obtain the prior permission of the British Government to fly detainees through British airspace. Does that same undertaking apply when the American Government and their agencies fly detainees through British overseas territories, including the British Indian Ocean Territory known as Diego Garcia?

Mr. McCartney: I indicated clearly that overseas territories were included; I have said that on at least two occasions, because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) has raised the subject in other forums.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Minister for making that point, which is well taken. In my contribution, I made a point about people who were resident in Britain who had ended up in Guantanamo Bay, but who were nevertheless eligible to continue their residence in Britain through indefinite leave to remain. I recognise that they are not British nationals, but they could become British nationals. Are the Government prepared to make representations on their behalf?

Mr. McCartney: I shall come to Guantanamo Bay and to my hon. Friend’s point in a moment. I hope that everyone is satisfied with the response that I have given so far. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South if the three cases mentioned are not those that he asked about; I shall write to him.

I want to reiterate the Government’s position on Guantanamo Bay. We have long made it clear that we regard the circumstances under which detainees continue to be held at Guantanamo Bay as unacceptable. The US Government know our views, which we have reiterated to them. As the Prime Minister has said, it would be better if Guantanamo were closed. We have also heard the public remarks of the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor. We raise those concerns in our regular discussions on detainee-related issues with the US Government. I give my hon. Friends the commitment that we will continue to do so.

We seek to ensure that the handling of detainees is consistent with the British Government’s other objectives, including preventing further terrorist attacks, undermining the work of those who recruit terrorists, and upholding respect for human rights and the rule of law. We have been accused of using intelligence derived from torture. The British Government’s position on torture is clear and has not changed: we condemn unreservedly the use of torture as a matter of fundamental principle, and we condemn it not just in principle but in practice. We not only condemn it, but continue to implement a global campaign to eradicate it.

The Government, including the intelligence and security agencies, never use torture for any purpose, including to obtain information; nor would we encourage others to do so. We are helping other countries to develop their own counter-terrorism capability, and we ensure that our training or other assistance that we provide promotes human rights compliance. That is important. On the future of Guantanamo, as has been mentioned, President
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Bush has now also said that he would like to end the process, and would like to get people to court. That is in line with what our legal people have said, and with what was outlined by our Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General.

It is important to recognise the dilemma faced by the US Government in considering the future. They must meet the demands of collective security while respecting individual humans rights. As I said earlier, we have discussions on those subjects with the United States Government and will continue to do so. I shall come back on the specific issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North because I have not been involved in any of those discussions and I would not want to give him the wrong impression. For my part, I will try to evaluate what discussions have taken place on the issue and I promise that I will come back to him on that.

Mike Gapes: For the record and to be clear, is the Minister saying that Guantanamo Bay is unacceptable and should be closed?

Mr. McCartney: Yes, that is what has been said. Furthermore, that is what I believe.

The issue of judicial review was raised and I shall write to colleagues about that because of the time constraints. The UK will continue to adhere to its long-standing policy not to deport anyone whom it believes is at real risk of torture or the death penalty. The Foreign Affairs Committee concluded the memorandum of understanding on deportation with assurances that the memorandum must not be used as a fig leaf to disguise a real risk of torture for deported terrorist suspects. I wholeheartedly agree. However, it is precisely because the Government take their human rights obligations seriously that they set out to negotiate those memorandums. Such agreements enable us to obtain assurances that will safeguard the rights of those individuals being returned, including the right to access to medical treatment, to adequate nourishment and to accommodation, as well as to treatment in a humane manner in accordance with internationally accepted standards.

By signing an MOU and agreeing to the appointment of a monitoring body—this is an important point that has been raised—Governments make a public commitment to safeguarding the well-being of individuals deported under such memorandums. A memorandum therefore provides an additional layer of protection over and above the provisions in international human rights instruments. Individuals will retain the right to challenge a decision to deport them in the UK courts. I believe that the memorandums provide adequate assurances to enable deportation of certain individuals to take place in a manner that is consistent with the UK’s human rights obligations.

I would like also to flag up some issues to which we are paying particular attention, and then I shall come to some specific questions asked.

Dr. Harris: I have listened carefully to the Minister’s helpful comments, but before he moves on, can he understand the concern about memorandums of understanding, given that our Government are siding
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with the Dutch Government in seeking to reverse the Chahal judgment in the Strasbourg court? That judgment stated clearly that there can be no balancing between the fundamental right of people not to be returned when there is a substantial risk of torture, and national security concerns that those people may be terrorists, or a threat to national security in other ways. Given that the Government are doing just that and are saying that that right is not absolute, people are concerned about whether the memorandums of understanding will provide as robust a safeguard—particularly in that case—as the Minister suggests the Government think it would.

Mr. McCartney: We will have to disagree on that. The whole purpose of the memorandum, as I said, was to ensure that additional layer of protection. In the end, it is a judgment. Engaging with a country in that way takes them down a road that we may have been trying for years to get them to go down, for whatever reason. Certainly from my point of view, the memorandum is not a fig leaf but an important tool to protect people in respect of deportation. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is arguing that there are no circumstances in which anyone should ever be deported from the United Kingdom—not even on legitimate, legal grounds. If he is not arguing that, then I do not understand why he is so sceptical about the memorandums that we are trying to put in place.

Dr. Harris: I agree that there is a point of contention between us, and it may be a fundamental disagreement. My main argument—and it is an argument that is set out clearly in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights—is that as soon as we start to have ad personam individual agreements through memorandums of understanding with countries that torture, it implies that we are willing to countenance them torturing people, as long as they are not the people that we are trying to deport.

The special rapporteur on torture for the UN, Manfred Nowak, has said clearly that the negotiation of such memorandums, even if they work—there is great scepticism among NGOs that they could, because of monitoring problems and the trustworthiness of the Governments involved—undermines multilateral agreements that protect everyone in those territories from torture, not just the individuals the Government are talking about.

Mr. McCartney: As I said, individuals who are not British nationals and pose a threat to our national security should not have the right to remain here indefinitely. Is there any disagreement there? We can deport someone only if their removal is compatible with our international commitments, including obligations under the European convention on human rights. That is absolutely clear. We are also mindful of our international obligations and, therefore, in negotiating bilateral assurances with certain countries, we try to ensure that they and we comply with those obligations. These instruments will work and will be effective. I have no doubt that the Committee, given its position, will be looking to monitor that situation and we shall come back to it. I have to disagree with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). I understand where he is coming from and I do not disagree with the sentiment of what he is saying. He is absolutely right: we have to ensure
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that nothing untoward happens because we did not comply with our obligations. We must ensure that we comply with our legal and moral obligations.

I now come to the first of the two items that I wanted to bring to hon. Members’ attention before I answered those questions. I apologise, Mr. Hancock, if I am going back too far. I am just getting back into my swing. I have been out of the game for three years as chair of the Labour party. It was amazing not to be able to speak in this place for three years. I am going to get my money’s worth today.

The first of those items is slavery. Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. We are committed to work with others across Whitehall and beyond to ensure appropriate commemoration of this horrific period in history. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South that I would welcome the Select Committee having a think about what they would like to see in the commemoration. It would be helpful if the Committee gave us its thoughts on the matter, so that we could include them in the planning process.

Slavery is one of the most horrific periods in history, but it continues today in the forms of bonded and forced labour, trafficking and the worst forms of child labour. The US State Department last week released its annual report on trafficking in persons, which estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked every year. The Government have prioritised combating trafficking in persons as part of the activities commemorating the 200th anniversary and will work to highlight and promote action on contemporary forms of slavery, including trafficking and the worst forms of child labour. The new Serious Organised Crime Agency will focus on the so-called “Mr. Bigs” who make fortunes from trafficking and, as the Prime Minister said at the launch of SOCA on 3 April, it will do so using a “sophisticated 21st century approach”.

My second point concerns democracy. I believe that the promotion of democratic practices and values is an essential part of any human rights strategy, as the best long-term foundation for human rights, the rule of law and good governance to flourish. While democracy cannot be imposed from outside and there is no definitive blueprint for a successful democracy, there are several essential core components that external actors can encourage and support. The work of civil society organisations—NGOs, trade unions and others—is key in providing an environment in which democracy can take root, in shaping and influencing policies and in holding Governments and others to account. To give a recent example, in Nepal we have seen the role that civil society organisations, trade unions and others can play in promoting increased public participation in government and in restoring human rights. That is a valuable step forward.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling raised the issue of the Bhutanese people. I noticed that he said that he had been a volunteer labourer—I thought he said that he had been a volunteer Labourite. I shall take back his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and ask my right hon. Friend to consider the wider comments about finding a solution to the issue.

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Elsewhere, we have seen increasing repression of NGOs and civil society actors. The International Federation of Free Trade Unions has reported that 115 trade unionists were murdered for defending workers’ rights in 2005, while more than 1,600 were subjected to violent assaults and some 9,000 arrested. In Burma, 10 underground organisers of the outlawed Federation of Trade Unions of Burma—

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McCartney: May I just finish this point? It might be helpful to get into it.

Jeremy Corbyn: My point is about trade unions.

Mr. McCartney: Okay, I will give way.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that the Minister mentioned trade unions and the role of the International Labour Organisation. He is obviously aware that the vast majority of those murders of trade unionists took place in Colombia last year. I hope that he will continue to make strong representations to the Colombian Government to protect people who are doing their best to defend those who are defending workers.

Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has that commitment.

The 10 underground organisers of the outlawed Federation of Trade Unions of Burma were arrested and sentenced to prison terms of up to 25 years. There is a concern that new guidelines for the registration of NGOs in Burma may provide further restrictions in a climate where it is already difficult for them to operate.

I raised the Government’s concern about trade unions and a long list of other issues with the Burmese ambassador, whom I summoned to the Foreign Office this morning. I raised the recent attacks on Karen villages, the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, as well as the regime’s use of child soldiers and forced labour, and other civil and political rights abuses. Those issues are well known to hon. Members.

Several other Governments are using restrictive legislation or secondary administrative or executive measures to disrupt the work of NGOs in addition to “traditional” forms of harassment, surveillance and attacks by the police and security forces. I have therefore asked all our posts to monitor such examples and to suggest action that we can take to assist in those areas. I hope that hon. Members find that useful. I shall also write to the leader of the Burmese regime, setting out in great detail what I said to his ambassador today. I was not wholly convinced by the ambassador’s body language—never mind his actual language—that he was going to report back to his regime any of what I said whatever. I am taking further action in that respect.

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