|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I think that the best way I can answer the legitimate questions that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has posed is to detail for him what has, in fact, been reported through the ISC about what the Government knew, when they knew it and what action they took. In answer to one of his questions I wish to say that it was the actions of the Government, as
recorded in the divisional court, that got the documents to Mr. Mohamed's legal counsel. That is why the constant confusion between the "suppression of evidence" as regards Mr. Mohamed and the publication of the evidence is so damaging. It was at the heart of the Government's case that we had a responsibility to ensure that Mr. Mohamed was able to defend himself. That is why we made representations to the US authorities, and the divisional court, in effect, congratulated the Government on achieving that. That is not the same as publishing the documents in the public domain, because one concerns justice for the individual whereas the other concerns the public interest in open debate. I shall provide the right hon. and learned Gentleman with a detailed explanation in respect of his other questions.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): In thanking my right hon. Friend for his statement to the House and for once again making it clear to everybody that torture or complicity in torture is totally unacceptable, may I add a thank you for his comments about the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee, on which I serve? I believe that it scrutinises the security agencies forcefully and purposely. However, will there now be-this is crucial for us all-a watching brief on how intelligence sharing between Britain and the UK will continue? I ask that because it is important for us to acknowledge that that relationship is crucial to Great Britain's future security.
David Miliband: My hon. Friend is right; there will be a taking stock, as I set out in my statement, and we will seek to ensure that the full intelligence sharing that is so vital to both our countries continues unabated. However, there is no point in denying that there will be a taking stock as a result of this judgment.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): The Foreign Secretary said that our most basic values as a nation are at stake here. I agree. It is only by getting to the truth about all this that we can bring closure to the whole sorry episode that is now called extraordinary rendition and in which the UK appears to have allowed itself to become complicit in kidnapping and torture. Indeed, a judge in another case said that we had facilitated a rendition, so the issue of facilitation, in principle, is no longer in doubt. Given all that, will the Foreign Secretary now finally discuss with the Prime Minister the need for a judge-led inquiry, which is supported by Lord Carlile, who is the Government's own anti-terrorism watchdog, and by the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, as well as many others?
I am interested to hear that the Leader of the Opposition is re-committing himself to a judicial inquiry-I shall pursue it with Opposition Front-Bench Members to see whether it is the case. The Government have discussed whether a judicial inquiry would be right, but have concluded that it would not be right, not least because the judicial system in this country is performing a very effective function in the courts, which is where it belongs. I also want to put it on the record that a dangerous confusion is emerging between rendition-sometimes called extraordinary rendition-and torture. They are not the same thing, although both are reprehensible and contrary to the laws and spirit of this
country. However, it is important that we do not confuse the two. In Mr. Mohamed's case, there are allegations that he was subject to both, but they are not the same; they are separate. However, they are both wrong and they both need to be addressed fully. In respect of the hon. Gentleman's main point, however, I do not think that the conclusion to be drawn from today's events is that a judicial inquiry is necessary; I draw the conclusion that the judiciary is performing its function extremely vigilantly. [Official Report, 22 February 2010, Vol. 506, c. 2MC.]
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): May I take the Foreign Secretary back to the question of Mr. Binyam Mohamed and what happened to him in 2002 in Pakistan? When did the British Government know about it, what protests have been made and are they satisfied that there is not a continuation of this practice, either in Pakistan or in other places, from where the US takes prisoners to some other destination? Furthermore, does he not think that Guantanamo Bay should have been closed many years ago and that we should have done much more to close it?
Mr. Speaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to imitate the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). There was a quartet there, but again one answer from the Foreign Secretary will suffice.
David Miliband: Yes, the Government have stood out against Guantanamo Bay for a very long time, but it is also a fact that the current US Administration are committed to closing Guantanamo Bay and are seeking to do so as fast as possible, and quite rightly so. However, I can answer in the affirmative to both the questions asked by my hon. Friend. In respect of whether those practices are continuing, it is absolutely clear from the executive orders that President Obama has issued, among other things, that those practices have been completely banned by the US, which puts it into line with our position.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): In his statement, the Secretary of State stated that Mr. Mohamed is an Ethiopian national formerly resident in the UK. What is his current immigration status, and why was he allowed back into the UK, especially when it was obvious that he was going to seek legal aid to mount a challenge in our courts?
David Miliband: The Government judge that our interests in securing the closure of Guantanamo Bay were so strong that it was right that British residents, as well as British citizens, be given the chance to come back to the UK. We did that in the case of nine British citizens and five British residents. One British resident, Mr. Shaker Aamer, continues to reside in Guantanamo Bay, and we continue to press the case for his release. We took the decision on the basis that the closure of Guantanamo Bay was right and that we had to play our part in it. However, it is also right that Mr. Mohamed, along with four others, was a UK resident at the time of his extraordinary rendition-not rendition from this country, but from within south Asia.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab):
This dreadful conduct is alien to our history and principles, and will certainly increase the risk of terrorism to this country. In the Secretary of State's stock-taking, will he consider
the possibility of returning to the fully independent, British foreign policy that served us so well in the Vietnam war?
David Miliband: I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend that British foreign policy is fully independent. However, it is not autarkic: although we pursue our foreign policy with our allies, we also have to pursue it with people who are not our allies in order to achieve our goals. We are absolutely committed to doing what is right for the United Kingdom, and that involves a very close relationship with the United States. However, that does not mean that we always agree with them, although I am pleased to say that we agree with the current Administration more than with some previous ones. That does not mean, however, that we agree on everything. That is the right way to proceed.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Will this case speed up the release and return of Mr. Shaker Aamer, to whom the Foreign Secretary referred and whose family live in my constituency? Is there any intelligence material about the torture of Mr. Aamer in our possession, and could that be a reason behind the reluctance of the US Government to agree to his return to this country?
David Miliband: I do not believe that this case has any bearing on the Shaker Aamer case. We continue to press the case for his release, and we will continue to do so with all due effort. I know that my hon. Friend supports us strongly on that.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Today, I am publishing the review of the armed forces compensation scheme that I announced on 27 July last year. I would like to thank Lord Boyce for producing a rigorous report that has looked at every aspect of the compensation scheme, including the principles underlying it; the process by which a claim is made; and the amount of compensation provided. I will implement all of Lord Boyce's recommendations in their entirety. This will include: raising by about one third the annual payment made to the youngest and most seriously injured personnel throughout their lives to help them to deal with the ongoing effects of their injuries; retaining the top award level of more than £500,000 for the lump sum payments but increasing all other levels by up to two thirds; and increasing the maximum award for those suffering from mental illness as a result of their service.
We ask a lot of our armed forces. On a daily basis, I see evidence of their bravery, selfless commitment and determination. The job they do on our behalf is unique. There is no such thing as a risk-free military operation, and those serving on the front line in Afghanistan know this, accept it and are committed to getting the job done. They are protecting Britain's national security by denying safe haven to violent extremists, and the sacrifice has been significant. Earlier, the Prime Minister paid tribute to Private Sean McDonald, Corporal Johnathan Moore from 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and Warrant Officer Class 2 David Markland from 36 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers. They lost their lives in the past few days. These were professional, courageous, and committed men, and each death is a personal tragedy for the families, friends and comrades of those killed.
In Afghanistan today, British troops are fighting as part of an international security assistance force campaign to seize the initiative across southern Afghanistan. It will be hard, and we must brace ourselves for further casualties. There will always be a human cost when our forces are committed to action, and we have a moral obligation to honour their commitment and fulfil our responsibilities.
When servicemen and women are injured, we must ensure that they are provided with the right support-not just financial help, but medical care and through-life support. I am pleased that today's National Audit Office report recognises that the medical care provided to our armed forces on the battlefield, in theatre and back here at home is first class. The advances made in medical care mean that many people who would previously have died of their injuries now survive and are able to lead fulfilling lives. Today we are announcing an extra 30 beds at the defence medical rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, as well as updating and expanding the existing facilities. For some people, injuries will mean that their career path in the armed forces is inevitably different. General Richards, the Chief of the General Staff, has been looking at that closely, and will be announcing shortly how the Army will ensure that everything is done to support soldiers in such circumstances.
We have a further duty to those injured due to service. They must have a just and fair compensation scheme. We must remember that the current scheme is a huge improvement on the war pensions scheme that it replaced in 2005. Unlike under the old system, injured servicemen and women are able to claim compensation while they are still in service. It is important that the new scheme is regularly reviewed, and that we act to ensure that it continues to evolve to meet people's needs where it has been shown to fall short. For example, in 2008 we doubled the top levels of compensation payments, as part of the service personnel Command Paper.
Last summer I asked the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Lord Boyce, to lead the latest review. To support him, we put in place an independent scrutiny group of external experts, including those from the medical and legal fields, and representatives of the service charities. I would like to thank them for their work on the review. When put in place in 2005, the new compensation scheme was designed to ensure that those with the most serious injuries received the greatest support. I am pleased that Lord Boyce has concluded that that is the right approach, and that the scheme lives up to that promise.
As Lord Boyce has recommended, we will make the following notable changes. As I said earlier, we will increase most of the lump sum compensation payments. The top level will remain at £570,000, but every other level will go up. We will also increase tax-free annual payments to those who suffer the most serious injuries, to take account of future career prospects that they might otherwise have expected. For the youngest soldiers suffering life-changing injuries, those payments will be more than 35 per cent. higher. We will increase the top-level award for those who suffer mental illness because of their service, as well as increasing their annual guaranteed income payment.
We will ensure that the scheme treats those with multiple injuries more fairly. In future, all injuries from a single incident will be recognised as part of the compensation award. A new fast-track interim payment will be introduced, so that those injured can receive some money before the entire claims process is completed. We will extend the time that people have to make and to appeal claims. That will include taking further account of the late onset of a condition, which will particularly help with mental illness. We will create a new opportunity for exceptional reviews after 10 years if health conditions unexpectedly and significantly deteriorate. When making a claim, the burden of proof required will remain the same, but allowances will be made where records have not been properly maintained. We will also make a range of other improvements recommended by Lord Boyce, such as increasing payments to widows.
The injuries that those in our armed forces receive can be complex in the extreme. Ensuring that the compensation scheme is fair and just is not straightforward. One size does not fit all. Changes to the scheme must be guided by expert evidence. We will create an independent expert medical group to advise on the right level of compensation payments, as the knowledge and treatment of certain medical conditions improve. Together, all those measures will help us to give the scheme the flexibility that it has previously lacked.
As I said when I announced the review last year, in an exception to the normal rule, all those who have received compensation for their injuries under the armed forces compensation scheme since 2005 will benefit from the improvements that we are announcing today. Those in our armed forces must have the confidence that if they are injured, they will receive the help that they need. With the implementation of Lord Boyce's recommendations, we have a scheme that fully recognises the severity of their injuries and helps to provide for their future.
It is not in our power to undo the injury, but the changes that I am announcing today will ensure that we do what is right and proper for those who sacrifice so much to keep this country safe and protected.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for prior sight of it. I would also like to join him in paying tribute to those who have recently lost their lives in Afghanistan. The whole House is united in respect for their bravery and their commitment to our security here at home. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends at this uniquely distressing time for them.
I would also like to add my thanks for the work done on this subject by Lord Boyce. It has been carried out with all the clarity and efficiency that we have come to expect from him, over many years of distinguished public service. There is much to be welcomed in the Government's statement today, but we will of course need to examine the detail of its implementation before we can make a full judgment.
As Lord Boyce reminds us, the review was carried out in response to the public fury at the Court of Appeal case involving Corporal Duncan and Marine McWilliams. The sight of the Government trying to reduce compensation scandalised the country. Lord Boyce said that the judgment should be taken further, to provide even greater clarity about some aspects of the scheme, so let me question the Secretary of State further on a number of issues.
Lord Boyce has said that there is considerable scope for improvement in the current, unsatisfactory way in which the scheme is communicated to all members of the armed forces, their families and interested stakeholders. We are talking about the Government's scheme, and therefore the Government's failings. How will that be put right, and who will oversee this, to ensure that the Government do not get it wrong again? In particular, what role will there be for independent scrutiny?
Next is mental health, which the Secretary of State mentioned. The low priority that we give to mental illness in this country is a sad indictment of our values. The way it was treated in the past in our armed forces was a sad dereliction of duty. Today marks a welcome step forward. How will the proposed expert group be set up? By whom and with whom will it be set up, and how will Parliament get a chance to be updated on its progress? Mental illness is an issue of the utmost importance to Members in all parts of the House, and I am sure that we would wish for some transparency on it.
We welcome the extension, from five to seven years, of the period in which a claim can be submitted, but how exactly does that fit in with the extended periods for presentation of mental illness? As the Secretary of State well knows, post-traumatic stress disorder can
take many years to present-up to 14 years, according to the latest figures from Combat Stress. How will the system be amended to ensure that those who present late with such problems do not find themselves excluded? Do we not need to find ways as a country proactively to seek out those who might be at risk, to prevent some of those problems from emerging, as our party has been proposing for some time?
On the subject of medical facilities, the Secretary of State said in his statement,
"we are announcing an extra 30 beds at...Headley Court".
The written ministerial statement says, "We are therefore now working on plans to provide up to 30 extra ward beds later this year". That is not quite the same thing. How soon can we expect the extra beds, and what factors might delay them? Is the Secretary of State concerned by today's NAO report, which suggests that our ability to deal with significant increases in casualties might be limited? Does he share the anxiety expressed by the NAO when it suggests that we are just coping medically-a position that is less than ideal at the start of a major offensive?
The Secretary of State has announced what amounts to a retrospective review of settlements made under the 2005 scheme. I assume that I am correct in that assessment. That is a big undertaking, and it would of course be unnecessary if the Government had got this right at that time. What is the timeline for this process? How will it be structured? How many cases will be involved in the retrospective review, and what estimates have been made of the cost?
Finally, may I raise a point about the reserves? We welcome Lord Boyce's suggestion that a factor should be introduced into the guaranteed income payment scheme to take account of the average range of promotions forgone while still in service because of injury. The whole House will agree with that, but how does it relate to reservists who might face long-term loss of civilian income because of the nature of their injuries? What is the equivalent compensation for them? That is especially important given our increased use of the reserves, not least in Afghanistan.
Our armed forces take unique risks and play a unique role in our national life. Is the Secretary of State confident that the money exists in the MOD budget fully to carry out the changes that will result from the review that he has set out today? Many people in our country will pay a high price for this Government's colossal economic mismanagement. Our injured armed forces should not be among them.
Mr. Ainsworth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about our armed forces and about Lord Boyce, who has done an excellent job; I am glad that that is recognised across the House. We took the case to court, as the hon. Gentleman knows, because we had to maintain the principles, the clarity and the fairness of the scheme. That was recognised by the judge. The issues that were raised at the time led us to bring forward the review, and the individuals concerned will benefit from the changes in the same way that any other individual will benefit.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|