Previous Section Index Home Page

21 Feb 2008 : Column 554

May I take up with the Foreign Secretary the question of belief? In December 2005, I believed his predecessor, and his predecessor believed the American Government, but both of us have been proved wrong. Is it any wonder, then, that there is some scepticism about the extent to which we can believe information that is now being put before us? The issue here is not met by expressions of disappointment. The truth is that this is a gross embarrassment for the British Government, in spite of their good faith, involving as it does a breach of our moral obligations and possibly of our legal responsibilities as well, which the Foreign Secretary hinted at in his statement when he referred to the fact that there have been consultations between legal teams of the United Kingdom and the United States.

In the further investigation that is to take place, will the Foreign Secretary ensure that particular attention is paid to the airports at Stornoway, Campbeltown and Prestwick, because of their convenience for transatlantic refuelling?

Does not all this reveal that as far as Diego Garcia is concerned, we have absolutely no effective control over what happens there? For how long is that sustainable? If the roles were reversed, is it conceivable that the American Government, or indeed the American Congress, would tolerate such a set of circumstances?

David Miliband: As I said earlier, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pursued this case with complete public-spiritedness and seriousness of purpose, and I entirely recognise that. If there are other individual cases that he believes that we should be investigating, of course they will be added to the list. I should say to him that this information has come to light as a result of an American investigation that was brought to us. That shows that the American Government recognise that it is as much in their interest as it is in ours that accuracy is maintained in these areas. That is important, without in any way excusing the mistakes—I used that word in my statement—that have been made.

It is important that the agreements that we have with the United States in respect of Diego Garcia have the force of treaty. The letters of 1966 and 1976 have the force of treaty, and they are legally binding agreements. I hope that on due consideration the right hon. and learned Gentleman will reflect on how to improve those procedures—perhaps during the inquiry that the Foreign Affairs Committee is conducting, which he has now joined—but I hope that he will agree that they are set down with statutory force under the current system.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): May I commend my right hon. Friend for the speed with which he has come before the House, for the frankness with which he has detailed the situation that he has found, and for upholding in the strongest terms this Government’s adherence to international standards on human rights? May I put it to him that the best way of avoiding any further episodes of this kind, in which our Government are a totally innocent party, will be for the United States to end rendition flights altogether, for it to end the disgusting practice of water-boarding, which was recently graphically described in an article in The New Yorker and which
21 Feb 2008 : Column 555
my right hon. Friend has rightly repudiated, and, as my right hon. Friend recommended, for it to close totally the illegal facility at Guantanamo Bay?

David Miliband: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The values that we talk about, which are the highest values of human rights and respect for the rule of law, need to be adhered to in every respect, and it is very important that they are seen to be adhered to. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife referred to embarrassment in respect of disclosure. I think that it is a very important part of our system that there is a far greater embarrassment in trying to cover anything like this up. It is right that the American Government came to us quickly as a result of discovering this, and absolutely right that we are clear that clearly upholding our commitment to our own Parliament and to the values to which we refer is central to our case.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): As the Foreign Secretary is aware, the British Government have entered into memorandums of understanding with the Government of Iraq and the Government of Afghanistan with regard to the transfer of detainees. Will he tell the House whether, since those memorandums have been entered into, there have been any transfers of persons detained by British forces in either Afghanistan or Iraq by third parties to Guantanamo Bay?

David Miliband: I want to go into the details of that and write to the hon. Gentleman with a clear answer. What I can say to him absolutely clearly is that in no way would we be complicit in rendering people to torture. That is something that I have made clear, but I will write to him with the details in respect of his very specific question.

Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): What is so special about a relationship where one of the partners appears to abuse trust, truth and respect?

David Miliband: I understand the anger that is felt by my hon. Friend about this issue and no doubt about the issues that will be raised with her by her constituents. I hope that she could say that the breach that has occurred in respect of this issue is not the defining element of our relationship with the United States; that is why I picked up on what was said by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). I do not believe that it is a relationship based on deceit; I believe that it is a relationship based on shared values and shared commitments. I hope that the fact that an organisation such as the ISC investigated, on behalf of this House, this particular issue of rendition and said that the relationship with the United States had “saved lives”—British lives—will enable my hon. Friend to reflect that it is possible to talk about a relationship that has enduring value for the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of this country. It is very important that we explain that side of the relationship as well.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): While accepting the good faith of the Government in saying what they said, which has turned out to be wrong, this is at least the second occasion in this whole rendition
21 Feb 2008 : Column 556
saga when we have had cause to complain very seriously about American actions. This may have been due to inefficiency or inadvertency. The breaking of the caveat in the case of those people who were rendered from Gambia to Guantanamo Bay was not inadvertent or due to bad administration—it was a deliberate failure to observe caveats that have been observed between our two countries. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will reinforce the necessity for absolute openness and honesty with our closest ally.

Diego Garcia is British territory, as we know. There is an RAF presence at Diego Garcia—in fact, it is called RAF Diego Garcia. In reviewing these arrangements, will the Foreign Secretary make certain that the people there are aware of the flights that go in and out, so that this sort of thing cannot happen without at least British personnel on the ground knowing about landings on British territory?

David Miliband: I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about the ISC report and the conclusions that were come to. The implication in his question—that these arrangements need to be understood throughout the British system and the American system—is an important one. One of the recommendations of the ISC inquiry into rendition was that there was a clear point of contact in the British Government for leadership on this issue. There were a range of other recommendations to ensure that that was properly understood, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that they are being followed up properly within Government, led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I can also assure him that in my discussion with Secretary Rice yesterday there was no room for misunderstanding on either side about the seriousness of this issue and about the determination on both our parts to ensure that there is full adherence to the commitment to seek permission for any flight like this. That is the founding basis in respect of the rendition issue. In respect of records and other issues, such as civilian and military flights in Diego Garcia, that is a slightly separate matter, but what must be clear is that there is no evidence that there has been any rendition through UK airspace, UK territory or UK overseas territory since 2002, and that must continue to be adhered to.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I have other important business to protect. I will try to call a number of other hon. Members. I would appreciate short questions and short answers. I shall not be calling hon. Members who were not here at the commencement of the statement.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): However much international terrorism remains a constant danger, and however much the United States is a close ally, have we not a responsibility to say that so much of its practices in dealing with terrorism—the torture, and the manner in which its reputation has been so tarnished, for reasons that have been mentioned already—is unacceptable? Should we not make it quite clear to the United States, as an ally, that such practices are totally unacceptable, and are rejected by this House?

21 Feb 2008 : Column 557

David Miliband: Mr. Deputy Speaker, in light of your injunction to be short, I say that, yes, we should always be clear about our own positions, and that is what I shall seek to do.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Although it is clear that this revelation has been volunteered by the Americans, and that presumably the Foreign Secretary would not be making this statement if they had not come forward in an honest way, will he take the opportunity to remind our American allies of Britain’s long record of not using torture in interrogations, even when the very survival of our country was at stake, as in the second world war? Will he remind them that Sir Robert Thompson, the leading counter-insurgency specialist, wrote:

This would not be such an issue if it abandoned such practice.

David Miliband: That is a helpful quotation, which I have not heard before. Obviously, I understand the spirit behind it. The hon. Gentleman will also recognise that there is a live debate in the United States about this very issue, and about the right way to prosecute the struggle against global terrorism.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to the House so quickly and for giving us a statement with his characteristic clarity and honesty. Hon. Members have every confidence in his commitment to human rights, but can he give an assurance to the House that the US Government understand our deep disappointment with their actions, and that he is confident that there will be no repetition of their failure in the future?

David Miliband: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his words. I believe that there is a determination on the part of Secretary Rice and her colleagues, as evidenced by the way in which they have come forward in this case, and by the way in which they engaged with the discussions we had yesterday both at the official and the political level, to get to the bottom of these issues and make sure that they are brought into the public domain in a timely way. I can certainly give my hon. Friend my commitment that I will continue to set out the British case without fear or favour.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Foreign Secretary said that there was a feeling of great disappointment in the House. I would say that it is alarm. Many right hon. and hon. Members raised these points at the time, based on evidence in the press and authoritative comment by non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty. Should not the Government have made further inquiries at the time?

The right hon. Gentleman referred to “a list of all the flights where we have been alerted to concerns regarding rendition”; who alerted the Government about those, and when did that happen? Finally, the right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to distance himself from rendition of all kinds. Why, then, allow permission to be sought for it to happen?

21 Feb 2008 : Column 558

David Miliband: In respect of the hon. Gentleman’s last point, the ISC addressed that issue in a way that the Government recognised and agreed with, which is that so-called extraordinary rendition to torture is always wrong—it is illegal and immoral—but it is not the case that all rendition is, by definition, illegal. I referred earlier to the 1998 cases, two of which were accepted and two of which were refused. They were renditions to the US system, and there were full legal rights for the accused in those cases, although two were refused.

The hon. Gentleman’s second question was about who alerted us. It is precisely the organisations and others, including hon. Members, who have written to us. My final point refers to his first one, which is the extent to which the UK Government took up the questions that were addressed. That is a very important point. I can absolutely assure him that, not just in annual meetings with the American Government, but at ministerial and official level, that topic was regularly raised—that is why I used that phrase in my statement. There was a regular seeking of the assurances, precisely in order to assure ourselves that we could confirm to the House that there was no evidence of the type being suggested. The trawls done by the US Government at this time did not produce the evidence, deeply regrettably, but now they have. I totally understand why the hon. Gentleman wants to make sure that we follow through all the allegations that have been made, and I am determined to do so.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Could the Foreign Secretary give any further information about how the truth of this situation came to light?

David Miliband: Exactly as I said in my statement, which is that the United States authorities, recognising the degree of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary concern about the issue, launched their own investigation—a further investigation. The evidence came to light relatively recently and they came to us. This is a US investigation and a US volunteering of the evidence.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): The Foreign Secretary has referred several times to the ISC inquiry, which, as he will be aware, looked at the case of my constituent, Jamil el-Banna, as well as that of a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), and their illegal rendition from the Gambia—then on to torture and Guantanamo Bay. The Foreign Secretary has admitted today that some of the information used for the wider inquiry by the ISC was incorrect—that is the point of his statement. Does that not underline the need for a full, independent, judicial inquiry into British involvement in rendition?

David Miliband: As the hon. Lady knows, I genuinely respect the way in which she and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) have taken up the cause of their constituents. We have talked about the application that has now been made, in respect of British residents, to bring them back from Guantanamo Bay. I genuinely understand that. But when she talks about British involvement, it is important that we
21 Feb 2008 : Column 559
understand that this is a matter of the United States seeking our permission, and there is no evidence of them having done so, other than in these two cases. Actually, they did not seek our permission in these two cases.

I hope that the hon. Lady will understand that the inquiry she is calling for into British involvement is one that, by definition, is trying to prove a negative, which is a very difficult thing to do. The ISC inquiry was well founded, serious and did get through all the issues. It will be for the ISC and its Chairman—some of the ISC members are here—to decide whether they want to follow that up, and how they may want to do so. I have confidence in that inquiry and I have heard nothing to suggest that anyone should not have confidence in it.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I welcome the statement, but I am confused. The UK Government rightly condemn extraordinary rendition as illegal kidnapping. It looks to me as if ordinary rendition is also kidnapping, to avoid the scrutiny of extradition proceedings. But the UK Government, particularly in the statement today—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have asked for short questions, and I have not heard a question yet. I call Mr. Rob Marris—quickly.

Rob Marris: In what way is rendition itself lawful?

David Miliband: The important distinction concerns rendition to torture, which is illegal and immoral in all cases; as the ISC showed, there is a distinction between that and, for example, the 1998 cases, which involved rendition to a justice system. That is an obvious distinction. If my hon. Friend is interested in the legal background to this, I am happy to write to him with some further legal details.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the speed with which he has come to the House, the manner in which he has made his statement, and his agreement to publish the list. Could he go a little further and say when he thinks that that list will be sent to the USA, and when he expects a response?

David Miliband: A very short answer would be no. I am not able to say that, but I obviously recognise the public and parliamentary interest in this issue. We will certainly try to gather the evidence together with due speed, and I am sure that the American authorities will want to address the issue in a similar way.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): A trust has been breached and the question is how we re-establish it. May I urge the Foreign Secretary to speak to his counterparts in the United States and ask them to carry out an audit of exactly how every detainee arrived in Guantanamo Bay? It is hard to believe that only one went through a British overseas territory.

David Miliband: Certainly the conversation I held with Secretary Rice yesterday revealed determination on both our parts. We went through the hard-to-believe question earlier and I do not want to repeat that. However, the United States recognises the need to move with genuine clarity and transparency on the issues. I certainly want to move forward on that basis.

21 Feb 2008 : Column 560

Point of Order

1.50 pm

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): The Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), today issued a written statement about ContactPoint, the children’s database. The statement suggests fundamental concerns about the security of ContactPoint, uncovered through a report commissioned at the Government’s request by Deloitte. It calls into question the likelihood of the database being delivered on time or on budget. The Government also announced that they will withhold the details of the Deloitte report, making scrutiny of its findings all but impossible.

That is a highly controversial issue. The database deals with the details of 11 million children in the country. A written statement to the House gives no opportunity to question the Government on that important project. What guidance can you give the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ensure proper scrutiny of the issue by Members?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): It is up to the Government to decide how they report matters to the House. They have the option of using written or oral statements or informing the House in other ways. The Chair is therefore unable to comment on that. However, the fact that the hon. Lady has placed the matter before the House will be noted and I daresay there may be other opportunities to pursue the matter.

Next Section Index Home Page