Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment because I think it is essential that this issue should be confronted. In my view, it demands international action. I regard extraordinary rendition as absolutely abhorrent. I am not persuaded that this Bill is the right vehicle for our views on this. We ought to return to this issue separately; I would welcome the views of the House on this subject. Unfortunately, we cannot currently do justice to that position. I want to make it plain, however, that I, among many Labour people, think that what is being envisaged and done in our name is absolutely unacceptable.

9 pm

Lord Garden: My Lords, I support this amendment, which is also in my name. The credit for it, however, must go to the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, for having seized the opportunity that the Bill gives us to address the serious problem of rendition.

We explored the issue in Grand Committee, and the noble Baroness has explained the importance of clarity in this area. We accept the Government's assurances that they will not facilitate rendition of people through UK airspace or airfields. After all, in Grand Committee the Minister gave us such an assurance in the strongest of terms:

These are strong assurances. I am sure that your Lordships will welcome such assurances from the government Benches.

In Grand Committee, the Minister made it clear that the problem was that he saw the amendment as one which would wreck the Bill:

As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, he should be happy now, because we have done the necessary work to show that that was a
 
8 Mar 2006 : Column 837
 
misconception. We understand that, in the pressure of Grand Committee, one can often make mistakes about the intricacies of international law. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that the Chicago convention will be fine under this; we have had it from our expert air legal adviser, Professor Richard Gardiner of the University College London, that Tokyo convention Articles 3.3 and 3.4 come into play. All these things make it possible for this amendment to work.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems that we all agree that we must investigate and then prevent flights which facilitate torture, and that we are allowed to do so under international aviation conventions. This amendment gives us a way to make it happen. I trust that the Government will now accept it, having had an opportunity to look at our international obligations in more detail than was possible in Grand Committee.

One more aspect which concerns me is the exchange of correspondence between Adam Ingram, the Defence Minister in the other place, and my right honourable friend Sir Menzies Campbell, reported in yesterday's Guardian. That has lifted the lid on the involvement of military airfields in providing access to these mysterious CIA-sponsored aircraft. In Grand Committee, I asked the Minister for some explanation of the status of charter aircraft operating on behalf of a foreign government, but received no answer. Now that we know that these aircraft operate through RAF Brize Norton and RAF Northolt, we need to think through what that means for how they are handled.

RAF Northolt will be familiar to those who have had ministerial appointments. It is a rather special airfield; it is where ministerial, Royal and other VIP flights operate from. It is also, because of its location close to Heathrow, restricted in the number of movements allowed, so I assume that the authorities take some interest in every flight authorised into and out of RAF Northolt. I suggest that easyJet might find it difficult to get slots there.

Presumably the station commander has some guidance about which flights he is allowed to accept, or perhaps a direction from Her Majesty's Government. These fights cannot count obviously as United States military flights because the military does not operate them. Whatever their status—I would be interested to know how the Minister sees their status—I trust that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has given his, as always, very useful advice to the Chief of the Defence Staff, who in turn can relay it to the group captain at Northolt just to ensure that he is not committing an illegal act by providing facilities for an aircraft that might be involved in extraordinary rendition.

The amendment would give much-needed clarity on what must be done, and, we can assume, would ensure that both the civil and military authorities would take appropriate action when they needed to follow up suspicions. I look forward to hearing from the Government their full support for it.

Lord Roper: My Lords, I made a brief intervention in Grand Committee in support of the amendment of
 
8 Mar 2006 : Column 838
 
the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and I would like to do the same today. I have at least one question for the Minister. Before coming to it, the arguments produced in Grand Committee about the Chicago convention should now be laid to rest. A more serious argument, perhaps, is whether this is the right place for such an amendment. If the Government are going to say that this is not the right place, they are obliged at least to tell the House where the right place is for an amendment on this topic. In this respect I am, in a sense, picking up the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. It is a matter of serious concern. Noble Lords in all parts of the House are concerned about the good name of the United Kingdom in this matter, as the Minister made clear in Grand Committee, and my noble friend Lord Garden has already referred to it. If the Minister is going to say, "Yes, this is a fair point but not the right place" he is obliged to tell the House what is the right place for such an amendment.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, on her brilliant, succinct presentation of the argument.

Two things are at stake here, one of which has been well set out by the noble Baroness and by my noble friend Lord Garden: the clear commitment of the United Kingdom Government, time and again, to absolute opposition to torture. I simply remind the House of it by quoting the Prime Minister only a week or so ago. He said:

I think all of us would wish to echo that.

It is also the case that the United Kingdom was one of the first signatories of the additional protocol to the convention on torture. There was no requirement on us to go ahead and sign that additional protocol. Not only were we among the first three to sign it, but we did so enthusiastically stating our commitment to that concept. What is at stake here—it is an important thing to be at stake—is the good faith of the United Kingdom Government. Also at stake is the role of Parliament.

These matters were first raised in October 2005 by Members of Parliament, both in this House and in another place, from all parties. The Government were repeatedly questioned and repeatedly they indicated clearly that we had nothing to do with it. The Foreign Secretary, a man, I think, of blunt honesty, said he was "completely unaware" of such flights. The response of the Minister, Adam Ingram, to my right honourable friend suggested that there must have been, at least at the Civil Service level, considerable knowledge of such flights, and also, as my noble friend Lord Garden said, knowledge in the Armed Forces, particularly the Royal Air Force. It is inconceivable that they could not have known about these things, especially given NATS's estimate of 200 flights taking place involving United Kingdom airports.

In a situation where none of these questions received full or adequate answers from October all the way through to where we are now, there is a question of the relationship of the Government to Parliament.
 
8 Mar 2006 : Column 839
 

My colleagues have said that it is now the Government's responsibility to say how the matter may be best raised in law. I share the view that the Bill may not be an appropriate tool, but it is the only one that we have to hand and it is a matter of such urgency and importance that it is perfectly right for the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, to bring it up in this context.

Will we now get fuller information? Can we be assured that further questions on the matter will be answered honestly and sincerely on the basis of the facts that the Government have now admitted to be the case? Finally, can the Minister repeat that the United Kingdom has nothing to do in any way with acceding to, associating itself with or facilitating torture under the heading of external rendition, so that we can say to those who have listened to us on the subject of human rights and the convention against torture that this country remains, as it has always been, a champion of those things and has no intention of compromising on that commitment?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page