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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his congratulations. In particular, I warmly welcome the congratulations made in relation to my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General among the others who have worked so hard and assiduously on this issue.
We have made clear our position about the process that will be adopted by us in relation to the return of these men. It has been made absolutely clear to our American colleagues that the process of our law will operate in relation to them in exactly the same way as it would operate in relation to any other British citizen. That matter is clear between us. We have continuously taken advantage of our ability to have consular visits to the British men detained in Guantanamo Bay. I can assure my noble friend that we believe that we have seen our detainees more frequently than any other nation.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the issues in relation to the trial, maintenance and how those matters will be dealt with continue to be matters of discussions of the most robust nature between us and our American colleagues.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I have two very short questions for the noble Baroness. Under the current law, how long can the five be detained without being charged? Secondly, has she any information as to when the United States Supreme Court might reach a decision on the legality of the detention at Guantanamo Bay?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can tell the noble and learned Lord that a terrorist suspect can be held under the Terrorism Act for a period of 14 days. The suspect must then be charged or released. The suspect must be released at any time beforehand as soon as the investigating officers become aware that the grounds for detention no longer apply. I can reassure the noble and learned Lord that all those debates in relation to the Terrorism Act in which he participated so energetically will bear fruit in relation to these detainees.
The noble Lord also asked about the Supreme Court. I am not able to give him an answer. If I am able to, I shall, but that is within the ambit of the American authorities. I am not aware of whether they have a timetable.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, while I acknowledge and welcome the strong statement that has been forthcoming from the Attorney-General, in particular about standards of trial required to meet international acceptability, does the Minister acknowledge that opinion within the United States is by no means fully supportive of the administration and that federal district courts have found Guantanamo detentions to be unconstitutional? Are the Government prepared to make it plain that quiet diplomacy is the method that they prefer, but that if unconstitutional actions are pursued against American or other citizens, we should regard it as an unfriendly act, and not one that we would be prepared to conceal within quiet diplomacy?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am aware that there is a very wide debate in the United States on this issue. I am also aware that that is a matter of hot debate and contention in the United States. I can confirm that I have that understanding.
As to the quiet diplomacy, we believe that the robust diplomacy that we have exercised has borne fruit. Of course, we shall continue to pursue it and we hope that we shall have similar success in due course.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I, like others, have the most profound respect for the work that my noble friend and her colleagues have been doing in this context. Like others, I have particular respect for the work done by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, not least in the way that he has publicly sustained the need, to which my noble friend referred, to see the protection of the rule of law as part of the stand against terrorism and the need not to concede to terrorists the victory of having undermined our commitment to the rule of law. Would she therefore accept that as close allies and friends of the United States, while putting our commitment to our own citizens at the top of our anxiety, we have a responsibility to argue that what is wrong is Guantanamo Bay? There are a lot of people remaining in Guantanamo Bay who are not British citizens. The principles that we are arguing apply for our citizens apply every bit as much for them. We look to the United States, as our close friend and ally, to redress what is wrong with the whole arrangement.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, noble Lords will know that even among the very best of friends there can be differences of view that have to be respected and understood. I remind my noble friend that the United States of America suffered a grievous
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister and the Government for their efforts on behalf of individuals who are soon to return to this country. My first question follows that raised by my noble friends Lord Wallace and Lord Maclennan on the view of the Attorney-General in relation to the due process of law in the United States. What would be the Government's position if the US Government do not provide a due process acceptable to the British Government? Do they have a plan B?
My second question relates to the statement made by the Minister that the five men may be arrested. The due process of law in this country entitles them to legal advice and lawyers at the time of arrest. These people have gone through severe trauma and have been subjected to a tremendous amount of pressure over a long period of time. I am not here to determine their guilt or innocence; that is for a court of law to decide. However, surely, access to lawyers must be provided to those people the moment they arrive in this country so that they are properly informed as to what is likely to happen to them.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, that is why I said as clearly as I could that they would have to be medically fit and have access to lawyers when they arrived. I hope I made clear that I agree with the noble Lord that access to legal advice is a right which they are entitled to be offered and to exercise if they so choose. I reassure noble Lords that that is understood. Nothing will be done in relation to these detainees which differs from that which we would all expect to be done to any other British citizen.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, assuming that the prisoners are returned to this country within a reasonable period of time, can the Minister tell the House what their status will be when they arrive here? Will they arrive back as prisoners or suspects or be placed under arrest? I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify that point.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the extent to which they have constantly referred to the need to observe the due process of law. Is there not a slight risk of hypocrisy entering this approach in view of the ouster provisions in Clause 10 or 11 of the asylum Bill, which prevent any application for due process in regard to decisions under that Bill? Even the suggestion that there has been a lack of jurisdiction is not to be permitted to be dealt with by the courts. A ring of steel has sought to be inserted in regard to that Bill so that the courts cannot in any way interfere with the decision made under its provisions. Is there not just a hint of hypocrisy entering into this subject if the Government continue to support those provisions?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we would say, "no". I understand the temptation the noble and learned Lord has to conflate the two debates, one on asylum and the other on what should happen as regards prosecuting or investigating an offence which refers to a British citizen. When the Bill reaches this House no doubt we shall have the delight of debating those provisions at length.
Lord Sandberg: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House why the Americans appear to be so uncomfortable with their own judicial ability to try people in the way that they would normally be tried? I can understand the terrifying attacks that were made on them but, with the very well organised and historical links of the American judicial system I still do not understand why they feel they have to go outside it in this case.
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