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5 Feb 2009 : Column 986

Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman knows, unprecedented demands have been made on the stocks of salt, and difficult decisions about priorities have to be made. I think that it is a matter of the Department for Transport working with the Department for Communities and Local Government, agencies such as the Highways Agency and local government bodies to make sure that we can replenish stocks and ensure that salt supplies are where they are needed.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House clarify the statement that she made in December and again on 13 January that when a debate is on armed forces personnel, the title should be interpreted broadly? She will understand that one can no more debate soldiers, sailors and airmen without debating the kit that they use than one can debate teachers or nurses without debating schools or hospitals. Will she confirm that in future, in debates on armed forces personnel, we can debate the equipment that they use and on which they rely?

Ms Harman: Traditionally, the House has debated armed services personnel separately from armed forces procurement; that has been the custom and practice. As for the scope or remit of any particular debate, that is obviously a matter for the Speaker. If the Defence Committee makes proposals on the subject, or if colleagues in the House want to make suggestions for change, that can be considered.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Mr. Speaker, like you, I hope, on Monday, when Britain came to a halt, I decided to run to work. [Hon. Members: “From Bournemouth?”] Absolutely. When I arrived, I found that it was not business as usual, as the Leader of the House claims. The car park was shut. When I asked the policeman why it was shut, he said that the 15-metre ramp leading down to it was covered with snow. When I asked why the snow had not been removed, he said that there was no contract for it. When I asked him to join me in removing the snow, he said, “No, it’s against health and safety.” Setting aside the issues of community that that raises, may I endorse the calls for a debate on how Britain copes with snow, starting with how we deal with it here in the Palace of Westminster?

Ms Harman: I drove in on Monday, and I drove straight into the car park— [Interruption]—so I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I do not know what his hon. Friends are talking about, either—no change there.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Now that we have a national dementia strategy for England, the long-awaited arrival of which was announced to the world by the Secretary of State for Health on the “Andrew Marr Show”, and to the House by written, not oral, statement on Tuesday, may we please have a debate on it in Government time, so that the people who are affected can hear the House discuss what is not in the strategy and how what is in it can be implemented and paid for?

Ms Harman: I shall take that as a suggestion for a future topical debate. I hope that all hon. Members welcome the national dementia strategy and the further
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announcement that was made. Of course, we will need to make progress on the issue; not everything was announced in one go. Rather than decrying what is not in the strategy, I ask the hon. Gentleman to welcome the important advances made by the national health service as part of the national dementia strategy.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): May I reiterate the calls for a statement to be made by a Minister about the country’s salt stocks? The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday the Minister for Local Government responded to the points of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and myself. He said at column 938 that the Highways Agency had sufficient stocks available to make

That is not the case in the Highways Agency south-west region. There are not sufficient stocks. Gloucestershire has been put in a very difficult position, which will impact on businesses and families across the area. Ministers should come to the House to say what the national position is. They do not have a clear understanding of it and we need to be able to question them appropriately.

Ms Harman: We have a very important statement, followed by a debate on Sri Lanka and another on Afghanistan and Pakistan, so it would not be right to have an oral statement today, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to consider a written statement and hon. Members can pursue issues afterwards.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): May I ask for another debate on port rating? A fortnight ago the Minister for Local Government told the House that most of the money had gone to port owners, but at Question Time last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), assured us in the strongest possible language that that was not the case. The day afterwards, in an Adjournment debate on port rating, the Minister for Local Government, despite hearing that read to him twice from Hansard, repeated his assertion. Meanwhile, businesses are going bust on the Mersey, on the Humber and in other parts of the country. May we have a debate to sort this out?

Ms Harman: By his question, the hon. Gentleman has shown that the issue, which I know is of concern around the House, has been raised on numerous occasions, and there will be another opportunity to raise it in Treasury questions next week.

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Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Following the mention by the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), may we have an urgent debate on the freeze in funding of further education colleges and their plans? For example, the regeneration of Beverley depends very much on the East Riding college move to Flemingate, and I know that Hull college, which serves my constituency and areas of Hull, also has plans and has spent a lot of money on the basis of Government promises. May we have a debate to ensure that the promises made to FE colleges will be honoured by the Government?

Ms Harman: We have put unprecedented investment into further and higher education, and we intend to continue to do that, particularly on the capital side. We intend to bring forward the investment programme and we are working with colleges and the relevant agencies to do exactly that.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the plight of the thalidomide victims? Given that there are 457 remaining victims in the United Kingdom, that in many cases their health is progressively deteriorating, and that the cost of domestic adaptations to enable them to perform sometimes simply basic tasks, let alone to live rewarding lives and to fulfil themselves, is so extortionately high, is it not time that the House considered whether we favour a publicly funded compensation scheme, analogous to those in Canada, Germany, Ireland and Sweden?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important topic. Everybody remembers the shameful situation of the drug companies trying to evade their responsibilities to those who had suffered because of the drug thalidomide. As a first step, I suggest the hon. Gentleman raises the issue in Health questions next week.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): With my constituency under 6 inches of early morning snow, making minor roads impassable, my constituents understand why all the local schools are closed today. However, they do not understand why half the local schools were closed on Tuesday, when the roads were icy but passable. Will the Leader of the House make sure that there is a topical debate next Thursday and that the debate is on Britain’s reaction to adverse weather conditions?

Ms Harman: In the first instance, the hon. Gentleman should raise the matter with his local council. If he is unhappy with the response, perhaps he can take it up with the Department for Transport.

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Binyam Mohamed

12.24 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement to the House on the case of Mr. Binyam Mohamed, following the judgment handed down yesterday in the High Court.

The fundamentals of the case are as follows. Mr. Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national formerly resident in the UK, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. In 2004 he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. Until August 2007, the Government had taken responsibility for the release and return of British nationals from Guantanamo Bay. In August 2007, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I wrote to then US Secretary of State to seek Mr. Mohamed’s release from Guantanamo Bay and his return to the United Kingdom, along with four other former UK residents. Over the past 18 months, we have mounted what the Court has called a strenuous effort to achieve that objective. We have throughout kept Mr. Mohamed’s family and lawyers informed of his situation and our efforts to resolve it.

The United States brought terrorist charges against Mr. Mohamed in May last year before a military commission. Mr. Mohamed subsequently brought proceedings against the British Government in an effort to secure the disclosure to his legal counsel of any material held by the British Government that might assist the defence of his case before the military commission. Having looked through all the material that we held across government, we provided through the appropriate legal and statutory mechanisms a great deal of both classified and unclassified UK information.

Among the information we held, however, we identified some highly classified US intelligence material. We took the view that the material was potentially exculpatory and ought to be disclosed to Mr. Mohamed’s legal counsel. As this was sensitive US Government material, we informed the relevant US authorities of our view; we also informed Mr. Mohamed’s counsel. We have worked since then to ensure that all the material was, indeed, made available to Mr. Mohamed’s legal counsel by the US Government through their own procedures.

Across the four judgments handed down by the High Court since last August, the Court has explicitly recognised the efforts of the Government both to secure Mr. Mohamed’s release and return, and to ensure that the material that we considered ought to be disclosed to him was, indeed, disclosed. The latter objective was achieved some time ago, when the US Department of Justice disclosed the material to Mr. Mohamed’s counsel in the course of proceedings in the US federal courts.

At the heart of Mr. Mohamed’s case have been allegations that he was tortured by foreign Government officials in a number of locations. It is the long-standing policy of this Government that we never condone, authorise or co-operate in torture. I repeat that commitment today. We also take very seriously all allegations of torture and investigate them fully. Allegations have been made in the course of these legal proceedings that the UK is in some way complicit in the alleged mistreatment of Mr. Mohamed.

Following the Court’s judgment of 22 October, on 23 October last year my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred the question of possible criminal
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wrongdoing to the Attorney-General. That question is now being considered by the Attorney-General. That is, as the Court acknowledged yesterday, the proper democratic and legal process.

Yesterday’s judgment was not about that, however. It was about whether an English court should, in the interests of public debate and understanding, order the disclosure to the general public of sensitive foreign intelligence shared with our own intelligence agencies on the strict understanding that it would not be released. As anyone who has read the judgments will appreciate, in circumstances in which Mr. Mohamed’s access to the information relevant to his defence had been secured, the sole question for my consideration concerned the publication of classified material received from a foreign intelligence service—in this case, the US.

The question at issue was whether intelligence provided on a confidential basis by one state to another, in absolute trust that it will be kept secure, may be disclosed to the public by order of a foreign court, or whether instead, the breach of trust would be so grave as to endanger intelligence-sharing relationships and therefore affect national security. In this case it was US intelligence and an English court, but it could just as easily be British intelligence in a foreign court.

I had before me the clear and unanimous advice of all key UK Departments and agencies. As the Court observed yesterday,

Our intelligence relationship with the United States is vital to the national security of the United Kingdom. It is essential that the ability of the United States to communicate such material in confidence to the UK is protected. Without such confidence the US will simply not share that material with us.

The same applies to our intelligence relationships with all those who share intelligence information with us. And what applies to them also applies to us. We share intelligence with a large number of countries. We do so to protect British citizens, and we do so on the basis that the material will not be put into the public domain against our wishes. To state the obvious, were our own classified information to be disclosed in such a way, it could compromise our work, our sources and therefore our security. It therefore was and remains my judgment that the disclosure of the intelligence documents at issue, by order of our courts and against the wishes of the US authorities, would indeed cause real and significant damage to the national security and international relations of this country.

For the record, the United States authorities did not threaten to “break off” intelligence co-operation with the UK. What the United States said—and it appears in the open, public documents of this case—is that disclosure of the documents by order of our courts would be

That is a simple affirmation of the facts of intelligence co-operation and it is worth noting that last night, in response to the High Court judgment, the US National
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Security Council reaffirmed the long-standing US position concerning the importance of protecting sensitive national security information and preserving the long-standing intelligence-sharing relationship between our two countries.

The Court has concluded that there is no prejudice—I repeat, no prejudice—to Mr. Mohamed’s case as a result of yesterday’s judgment. The information in question is available to his US legal counsel. As the Court said,

The issue at stake is not the content of the intelligence material, but the principle at the heart of all intelligence relationships: that a country should retain control of its intelligence information, and that that cannot be disclosed by foreign authorities without its consent. That is a principle that we neglect at our peril.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Let us be clear at the outset that we are united across the House on so many of the issues that this case illuminates. We all believe that it is right that the Guantanamo Bay detention centre should be closed and that torture is unacceptable under any circumstances. Many of us have criticised the use of extraordinary rendition and the possibility that it can sometimes lead to torture in a third country. The case of Binyam Mohamed illustrates why we have all had those concerns. He has been detained for nearly eight years and has not yet been brought to trial, although he is accused of terrorist offences.

As the Foreign Secretary said, the Government have sought the return of Binyam Mohamed to Britain since August 2007, but the US authorities have declined to release him. May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he raised the issue of Mr. Mohamed’s return during his visit to the United States on Tuesday? Have the new Administration indicated whether they will now accede to that request? What assessment has been made of any threat that that would present to the public in this country?

The High Court ruled that Mr. Mohamed

and that the British security services had facilitated interviews of Mr. Mohamed “in the knowledge” of what had been reported to them about his treatment.

In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), dated 29 September last year, the then Minister of State, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), said that the Government had raised the allegations of torture with the US and “asked them to investigate”. Has the Foreign Secretary received any response from the United States authorities about the outcome of those investigations? In the same letter, the then Minister stated that the Government

Can the Foreign Secretary give the same assurance to the House today—that it is still his and the Government’s firm view that there has been no complicity by UK security and intelligence officials in torture?

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According to the High Court ruling of August last year, the Government were made aware in 2002 by a UK security official present at the interview of detainees held by the US, including Mr. Mohamed, that detainees

The ruling contains an extract from a letter sent to that official by his superiors, saying that as the detainees in question

That may be the case in legal terms, but in moral terms the Government were surely obliged to make the strongest representations to the United States Government against that form of treatment. Were such representations made?

My remaining questions concern the immensely important issue, which the Foreign Secretary has described, of intelligence co-operation between the US and the UK. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm—in a way, he has confirmed it in his statement—that that relationship is unique in the world and of immense value not only to the UK but to the United States? Will he confirm that the disruption of that relationship would have serious consequences for the US as well as for this country?

Lord Justice Thomas expressed dismay at the

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