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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, knows that I shall not be able to respond to much of the detail of the questions that he has just asked me. Following the return of the five detainees, we agreed with the United States Government to continue discussions about the remaining four. The circumstances leading to the return of the five detainees were explained to Parliament at that time. We have had further discussions, which are continuing, but there has not yet been a resolution. As I said in response to an earlier question, we are looking at the implications of yesterday's judgment and it is far too soon for me to say what those implications might be.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the decision of the Supreme Court is particularly welcome at this time as it underlines the importance of the rule of law on both sides of the Atlantic?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think that I made it absolutely clear in the responses that I have already
 
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given that our position has always been that the detainees should be either tried fairly in accordance with international standards or returned to the United Kingdom. That has been at the centre of our approach and it will continue to be so.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, will the Government be offering financial assistance to those detained so that their appeals can be heard expeditiously and efficiently?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am not sure to which appeals the noble Lord refers. He will know that a judicial review process is currently taking place in the United Kingdom, on which I am unable to comment, and, of course, we had the ruling yesterday on the cases heard in the US Supreme Court.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, this side, I think. My noble friend will be aware that analogous, although not exactly parallel, concerns have been expressed about the detention regime under Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act in this country. Will she ensure that, in the Government's review of those provisions, exactly the same scruples and concerns are taken into account in the regime that we operate for foreign prisoners in this country?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend is talking about a very different situation.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the noble Baroness remind us what has happened to the five who have returned to this country? Are they now facing trial?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, they have returned and, so far as I recall, they are not facing trial. If I am wrong, I shall of course write to the noble Lord.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, while I applaud the efforts of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the Government to return British detainees to this country, the Question does not relate simply to United Kingdom detainees; it refers to all those who are detained in very severe circumstances at Guantanamo Bay. Are the Government making strenuous efforts to ensure that the United States obeys the international conventions and the rule of law under which prisoners should not be held in dire circumstances for very long periods without facing charge and proper judicial process?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think that I have made our position clear, but perhaps I should repeat it for the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. We have consistently sought to resolve the position of the British detainees. If noble Lords look at the many statements which have been made, they will see that no other country has visited its detainees as frequently or made such strenuous efforts on their behalf.
 
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Again, I stress that our position has been that our detainees should either be treated fairly in accordance with international standards or returned to the United Kingdom. When we expressed our reservations over the military commissions last year, it was on the basis that the United States Government suspended all legal proceedings against two of the British detainees at our request.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, is it not clear, even for those who wish the United States well in the very difficult task that it has undertaken, that we have the greatest concern about the present situation? It has become a public relations disaster for the United States, and it is urgent and important that it makes its case more clearly to the world. In that connection, are the Government making any representations about the fact that the United States is not likely to have an ambassador in this country for the following six months?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, obviously the length of time that the United States takes to place an ambassador is very much a matter for it. The noble Lord will know, as I have said in response to many questions, that we have been strenuous in the representations we have made to the United States Government with regard to the position of the British detainees.

Regional Assemblies

Baroness Hanham asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we will introduce a Bill to establish elected regional assemblies when one or more regions has voted in favour of establishing an assembly in a referendum. Our intention is that there should be referendums in the three northern regions this autumn. We will publish a draft Bill in July when Parliament has approved the date of the referendums.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In view of that response and as it is expected that the referendums will take place in the autumn, does the Minister not accept that to publish the powers and responsibilities of the regional assemblies some time in July, which will be probably less than a week or two before the Summer Recess, and with Parliament sitting for only two weeks in September, means that there will be very little time for this House to consider those powers and responsibilities? Can he give an assurance that opportunities will be presented to the House to discuss the powers and responsibilities in the draft Bill in good time before the start of a referendum campaign?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I understand the point made by the noble Baroness. I am sure that
 
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there will be plenty of time for debate following the referendums. As regards time for debate before the referendums, clearly that is a matter which should be properly discussed through the usual channels. No doubt there will be sympathy for that discussion.

Lord Renton: My Lords, how many millions of pounds will these regional assemblies cost our people, and are our people not already well represented in the House of Commons, county councils, district councils and in other ways?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. In the end it will be for the people to decide. That is the purpose of the Government setting out a programme which enables people to vote in the regions on whether they wish to have a regional assembly. The Government take the view that regional government is of benefit, and no doubt many people agree with that.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, will the Minister return to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham; that is, that there should be proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill and proper debate in both Houses before these questions are put to a referendum? There is great anxiety in the north-west of England about the nature of the powers that will be given to the regional assemblies. Does the Minister not agree that those issues should be explored in this place and another place before they are put to the people?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, in the six and a half years that I have been in your Lordships' House I have never noticed its failure to take these matters seriously and to scrutinise in great detail Bills that come before it. I am sure that there will be ample opportunity for proper scrutiny of the powers and functions of the regional assemblies. I understand that the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has announced its intention to hold an inquiry into the Bill and will examine how it may work. I am sure that that and other opportunities within the parliamentary timetable will exist for adequate scrutiny.

Lord Newby: My Lords, there are those of us who, like the Government, are keen to see the referendums reach a successful conclusion but our campaigns are being hobbled at the moment. We do not know what proposition we shall advocate to the electorate in the regions because we do not have a draft Bill. Does the Minister accept that to say that the question of whether there is adequate debate is up to the usual channels strikes many of us as completely unacceptable? Until we see a draft Bill we cannot have any kind of debate, far less any assurance, on the basis on which these referendums will be fought.


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