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26 Jun 2007 : Column 40WH—continued

We would all like to know what that aircraft was doing and why it landed 14 times. I accept that there is a lot of smoke, but we do not necessarily have the proof of a fire. Generally, however, where there is smoke there is fire.

The CIA is not going to tell us that they are undertaking extraordinary rendition. Common sense says that, if one is breaking international law, one does not run up a flag and say, “Right chaps, we are breaking international law.” Likewise, if we are complicit in helping the US to break international law, we are not going to say so. It is quite possible that those in the UK who might be complicit have not even told their superiors or advised Ministers. That comes back to the issue of justice and the need for an inquiry to consider the evidence and to determine the purpose of the flights into and out of the UK.

The point made in relation to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham about recognition of loopholes is significant. In all the evidence that has been presented to various Committees, the Ministers and Secretaries of State have always categorically denied that anything else needed to be done and that everything was watertight. We were told that there was no rendition and that, apart from the three cases about which we were informed, there could be none. The reason given was that the Americans are nice people and would therefore tell us if the situation was otherwise. I am not convinced.

I shall conclude so that the Minister has plenty of time to deal with the two promises that I mentioned: the promise to have an inquiry and secondly whether he will say categorically for the record that extraordinary rendition is wrong, that he believes that to be case, and that the Government will do all in their power to end it.

12.5 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) not only on obtaining the debate but on all the work that he has done in the all-party group. He has
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done the House a great service. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on her erudite description of the circumstances of her two constituents and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on his usual clear and concise exposition of the subject.

There is a long history of rendition: the handing over of someone by force from one place to another—sometimes one country to another. There are many examples; the exile of Napoleon might be taken as one. More recent examples include Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre, and Carlos the Jackal, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester alluded. The European Commission on Human Rights, however, interestingly rejected Carlos’s claims that his rendition from Sudan was unlawful.

There is a difference between rendition and extraordinary rendition. Extraordinary rendition involves the transferring of individuals either for interrogation to countries that might have a record of using torture or to prevent the judicial system of a country operating against an individual.

US laws and international treaties prohibit the transfer of suspects to countries where they are likely to face torture. Indeed, the US has given us assurance that it does not render detainees to any country for the purpose of interrogation that uses torture, or to a country where he or she will be tortured—I stress the word “will”. Those assurances are welcome. However, there is still a risk that, when detainees are rendered to a third country, that process might lead to torture. In such cases, there is a risk of losing control over the conditions such that a detainee might be held and tortured.

Our Government and security services bear a great responsibility to act effectively against that threat; they must be vigilant and act decisively, sometimes even pre-emptively. The security of a state’s citizens is a paramount obligation of that state. Since the dreadful events of 11 September 2001, we have all faced a particular challenge and a huge difficulty in locating those who would attack us, and in being at war with an entity that is not a state. My party recognises that one of the many difficult issues in such a conflict is what to do with captured individuals whom we know or believe to be terrorists. They come from many countries, and are often captured far from their original homes. Among them are those who are effectively stateless. The hon. Member for Brent, East indeed said that her constituent was rendered effectively stateless at one point.

Many such people are dangerous, and some have information that might save lives—perhaps even thousands of lives. Nevertheless, we must uphold those values whose benefit we enjoy, that we want to protect, and that we want to encourage others to take up. Extraordinary rendition is an emotive subject that requires objective examination.

We understand that captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We must adapt, and Governments other than that of the United States are now also facing that challenge. However, the Conservative party believes that we must conduct our foreign policy in a way that does not deviate from our values, central to
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which is the deeply held belief in the primacy and inviolability of individual human rights. If we allow human rights to suffer while we pursue our legitimate national interest, we will all have failed.

The attacks in New York, Nairobi, Bali, Madrid, Beslan, Casablanca, Istanbul and even London cannot be ignored. They serve as a reminder of the reach of terrorists and the extremes to which they will go to hit our civilisation. Human rights do not apply solely to the western world, nor are they standards from which particular cultures or religions can choose to opt out. They are, and should be, universal.

Likewise, international prohibitions of torture are universal and absolute. The law is absolutely clear that there can be no derogation from those prohibitions under any circumstances, including those of war. That is the key issue, and the debate has not yet quite got to it. It is not just a legal issue; where there are abuses, despair and resentment will surely grow. That serves the interests of those seeking to recruit for violent causes. If we are to win the war on terror it is absolutely paramount that we have the moral advantage. If we do not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury asked, how can we expect others to uphold the same values? If we succumb to lower standards, it gives the terrorist the excuse to carry out his dreadful acts and to recruit others to do the same.

Sarah Teather: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there remain questions about whether the British Government have been aware of stop-overs of CIA-operated aircraft and whom they have contained? The Minister grumbled quietly to himself when my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) raised that point in an intervention, but I wish to put on record that among the aircraft that have been shown to be used by the CIA and have stopped—

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. Interventions should be short.

Sarah Teather: I will be very quick.

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Yes, you will be very quick, you are right.

Sarah Teather: Okay. Among those that have been shown to be—

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I have a big section in my speech on that, but due to the time I do not think I am going to reach it. I entirely agree with her that the matter needs to be examined.

Accusations and testimony of extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects have led to a critical erosion of our moral authority. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it. To do so would set a poor example to those who look to the western world for leadership.

There is a need to find a better way to address the problem that the detention centres were designed to solve, and we must guard against possible long-term
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miscarriages of justice. As others have said, the Abu Ghraib abuses were a truly shameful episode and showed that departures from our normal standards of human dignity can cost lives. If such a culture has been allowed to develop, it must be tackled at a senior level.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge referred to the answer given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). It is worth repeating that in 2006 the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), gave my right hon. Friend the assurance that

That was a fundamental assurance. The present Minister also stated that the Government

Those were pretty substantial assurances. However, I am keen to be reassured by the Minister. Will he give me an absolute assurance that the British Government totally reject extraordinary rendition? He gave such a clear assurance on Guantánamo Bay, and a frank assurance on rendition would go a long way towards putting the issue to bed.

I have one or two other questions. Will the Minister assure us that he has no information of British territories or airspace actively or passively being used for extraordinary rendition? Have any arrangements been made to enable the refuelling at military airfields of civilian aircraft with passengers destined for extraordinary rendition? The essence of the finding of reports by Amnesty International on 4 April and 14 July 2006 was that civil aircraft on charter to the CIA, with people on board selected for transfer by the CIA, were permitted to land and refuel at our civil and military airfields, possibly for the purpose of extraordinary rendition. Can the Minister give us any information about that?

In an agreed transcript of evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 27 March 2006, it was stated that the Foreign Secretary had made it plain that there was not

If a Defence Minister was able to give such an assurance, will the Minister repeat it today?

Why was clearance given to planes to land at military airfields in the UK? It is accepted that the Department for Transport instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to give clearance for aircraft identified as being on charter to the CIA to land at civil and military airfields in the UK. Did the Foreign and Commonwealth Office instruct the DFT and, if not, at whose behest were the instructions given? Why were they given without the Government having full knowledge of the purpose of the arrangements involved? Why was not any attempt made over the years to discover the purpose of the 185 flights in question? We shall continue to hold the Government to the assurances that the then Foreign Secretary gave in 2006.

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We must work not to undermine the foundations of international law and the rules that exist to protect human rights, and we must ensure that, wherever possible, it is the power of our example, not the power of our armed forces, that imposes those rules. The rules of international law and human rights matter fundamentally, and the perception that they may be bent, whether selectively, deliberately or as a consequence of inadequate attention to the risks attendant on our actions, damages our moral authority and international standing. By undermining our achievements and complicating the task ahead it may, ironically and tragically, make us less rather than more safe.

12.17 pm

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I am sorry that I have barely 12 minutes to answer a huge number of questions, but I welcome the opportunity to try to do so. I thank the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) for giving us the opportunity to debate the issue. There have been persistent allegations that the Government have refused to address rendition fully and openly and that we have somehow sought to evade accountability to Parliament. The debate is an opportunity to set the record straight.

I wish at the outset to tackle two persistent myths about rendition. First, and in answer to some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who made a typically thoughtful and measured speech, I reiterate that the Government have not approved and will not approve a policy of facilitating the transfer of individuals through the United Kingdom to places where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would face a real risk of torture.

Secondly, I reject totally the allegation that the Government have refused to address the issue fully and openly. In fact, we have done everything we can to keep the House informed and co-operated fully with international inquiries into rendition, including by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.

I recently wrote to the hon. Member for Chichester, further to the work that he and the all-party extraordinary rendition group, which he chairs, have done on the issue. I underlined in my letter that we carried out extensive searches of official records and found no evidence that detainees were rendered through the UK or overseas territories since 1997 if there were substantial grounds to believe that there was a real risk of torture.

In his letter, the hon. Gentleman called for new legislation to prescribe how any future requests for rendition through the UK should be dealt with. I am not persuaded that new legislation would add practical value, but, given the work that he and the all-party group have done, I have asked my officials to consider the matter further to confirm that assessment, and I hope that he will welcome that.

As the hon. Member for Cotswold reminded us, the term “rendition” is inexact. However, the Government’s policy is clear: the facts of each individual case will determine whether any particular rendition is lawful. Neither the hon. Member for Chichester nor the hon. Member for Cotswold mentioned that there are many other states that “rendite” people. Some of them are
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geographically close to us. If we are requested to assist another state and our assistance would be lawful, we will decide whether to assist, taking into account all the circumstances. We would not assist in any case if it would put us in breach of UK law or our international obligations.

In 1998, the US made four requests for permission to render one or more detainees through the UK or overseas territories. Records show that the Government refused two requests and granted two others. In both cases where permission was granted, the detainees were subsequently tried on criminal charges in the US. One pleaded guilty to murder, and the other was charged for his part in the 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Chichester is criticising the substance of the decisions that Ministers took in 1998. Certainly no other commentator has criticised the decisions. The hon. Gentleman made a fair case for improving our procedures and made several helpful proposals to that effect, but we should keep the issue in perspective.

In its fourth report, “Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism”, which was published last summer, the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that although there had been speculation about the complicity of the British Government in unlawful rendition,

I commend that conclusion to the hon. Gentleman.

I followed the hon. Gentleman’s argument closely. At one point, he said that the Minister almost certainly would not know the facts. I believe that he said that a couple of times. He will not enjoy my saying this, but that is the usual conspiracy theory mantra. The only people who know the facts are, of course, the conspirators and those who indulge in conspiracy theories. They always know the truth; they always know the facts.

Ministers can never know the facts because, as the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) said, their superiors would not tell them the facts. I know that the hon. Gentleman has not been a Minister—chances are that he never will be one because of the party that he belongs to—but I can tell him that he clearly does not know how Departments work. Also, it is incredibly insulting to be told that I have been kept in the dark, and that I would not know about such things, as if perhaps I do not care enough to try to find out about them.

Richard Younger-Ross: Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Howells: I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman talked for too long as it is, and I have only a few minutes left. Back-Bench speeches were supposed to end at 12 o’clock, and we were supposed to start the winding-up speeches then, but that did not happen.

Richard Younger-Ross: Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Howells: I shall not give way.

Richard Younger-Ross: rose—

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