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Do the Government ever intend to publish data on persons captured outside MND (South East), which is the area we are talking about, and transferred to the US? If that is the Government’s intention, when can your Lordships’ House expect to receive the information? Why have the Government not published the actual review of the procedures the Armed Forces have in place to ensure that detention operations and transfers were, and are, in line with this country's legal obligations and policy objectives? A number of serious questions remain outstanding to which I hope the Minister will be able to provide answers.

2.30 pm

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier condolences.

As far as we are concerned, this Statement is extremely unsatisfactory. It consists of five carefully crafted pages on which clearly the MoD has been working for weeks. It has been sprung on Parliament with no notice—a couple of hours’ notice at the most—it is extremely detailed, it involves international law and human rights and it covers a number of corrections of answers that have been given to noble Lords and parliamentarians over the years. The whole issue and the way it has been handled warrant a full debate rather than this Statement.

Reference is made in the Statement to a number of documents that have been placed in the Library—details of detentions in Iraq since 2003 and a number of the corrections to earlier answers. By 1 pm today, none of these was in the Library. I was unable to trace them. I finally managed to get one sheet of paper half an hour before this Statement was made. The sheet that I was shown and have here is quite interesting; it touches one of the points that the noble Baroness made earlier. It is headed “Summary of Individuals Detained by Conventional UK Forces in Iraq”. I ask the Minister whether it covers those detained in Iraq by our special forces.

The Statement says:

“It is essential that our Armed Forces are able to detain people who pose a real threat either to our troops, to those of our allies or to the local population we are seeking to protect”.

I concur entirely with that. Does the Minister agree, however, that it is also essential that our forces operate to the highest standards, that proper records of detainees

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are kept and that the human rights of the detainee, international law and the Geneva Convention are properly adhered to? What confidence can we have in military records when the number of personnel detained since February 2007 was overstated by approximately 1,000?

In the Al-Skeini case, details of which I have here, the House of Lords, in its judicial capacity, found that people detained by our forces in Iraq were under UK jurisdiction so UK law, including the Human Rights Act, applies to them. Torture is prohibited and the right to life is confirmed. How can one be satisfied that human rights are being upheld when the records themselves are so manifestly unsatisfactory? Sadly, we are reminded today of the Baha Mousa case—that unfortunate detainee was tortured and killed, and the MoD has now agreed to pay compensation.

I would like to ask the Minister two specific questions. The first one was partly covered by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, on the question of operations outside Multinational Division (South East). The Statement says:

“I do not intend to provide any further details on these detentions today”.

Why not? Does the Secretary of State who made the original Statement actually have the details that he is not providing? When are they likely to be provided?

The Statement refers to some detainees—those who are alleged to have links with al-Qaeda—being sent by the US from Iraq to Afghanistan for questioning,

Surely it would have been easier for a small number of linguists to be sent from Afghanistan to Iraq rather than the other way round—sending substantial numbers of detainees. Does not the UK have any linguists in Iraq whom the Americans could have called on without sending those detainees to Iraq?

Today’s Statement raises far more issues than it reassures. Sneaking it out—I use that word advisedly—without adequate notice, indeed without any notice, leaves a rather unpleasant taste and, frankly, fails to inspire confidence.

Our troops have very difficult and dangerous roles to perform in Iraq and Afghanistan. We earlier heard about the very sad deaths. They conduct operations by and large with great bravery and professionalism but we owe it to them, to the civilian population and to the detainees themselves to keep proper records and to behave correctly at all times.

2.36 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, referring first to the points made by the noble Baroness, I am pleased that there is an acceptance of the importance of the authority to make detention operations. We have agreements with our allies. They do not have the force of law but we have every confidence that they are effective and that they are being obeyed. We are in constant conversation with our allies on this and we believe the MOUs are being honoured.

The procedural changes to allow an improvement in the records essentially involve the creation of a database in the United Kingdom at PJHQ where data from individual operations are collated. We believe

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that gives us an accurate picture of what is happening today and we believe that the scrutiny of the data that go back to the period in the Statement where we have given accurate figures is a good historical record. We recognise there was a period earlier in the campaigns when the records are poorer.

We will not be providing details to the House of operations outside conventional operations. It is not our normal practice to give details of these sorts of operations and we have been consistent in that answer. The review is not being published because of the extent to which it contains classified information.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, does not find the Statement complete. We believe that it is complete in the matters it addresses. I am sorry that the papers are not in our Library. I was reading the Statement as if I were the Secretary of State in another place and his assurance, which I was giving second-hand, was that they were in the House of Commons Library. I shall make sure that officials follow this up.

As I said earlier, it is not our policy to reveal any details about operations of our special forces. However, our troops, be they special forces or regular forces, operate to the highest standards and obey international law. We are confident that, in our relationships with our allies, where individuals are apprehended by ourselves but handed over to the US authorities, the memorandum of understanding is honoured and that the standards under which they are detained are to the levels of international law. With regard to these individuals the International Committee of the Red Cross was able to give that kind of support.

There is a series of questions which I shall loosely call “Who knew and when?” and which are entirely reasonable. It is clear from the record that UK officials at a certain level knew about the detention of the two individuals in the records. It is not clear why they did not raise it at a higher level. We have inspected the record: it is not clear. The US assures us—we have no reason not to accept its assurance—that its own systems failed in these two cases and did not make it clear that they had been captured by UK forces. Therefore, it did not ask us before they were transferred. It was learnt after they were transferred, but only by officials. It was not raised at a senior level until much later and, as I said earlier, there were references, although indirect, to documents which were available to the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary in 2006.

In general, we are absolutely clear that, where our own forces are involved with other coalition partners, we shall not be complicit with torture or involved in any situation where we believe there will be torture. We have taken on board all the allegations made by the Special Forces individual, which have been repeated by both noble Lords. They have all been thoroughly investigated where he has provided evidence. My understanding is that there is limited evidence and that none of the allegations has been proven. If they were proven, we would of course take action. Our troops work to the highest standards. We are trying to create high standards; we are proud of how troops perform; and we believe that any limitations shown by our present procedures have been addressed.

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2.43 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I welcome the fact that there has been a review and that the Statement mentioned access by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Does the Minister agree that that is always necessary if abuses are to be prevented in respect of detainees?

I am more concerned with the present position than with what may have happened in the past. Does the Minister agree that many thousands of detainees are still being held by the United States authorities in Iraq and that those persons may be at risk of being transferred to other countries? Furthermore, is it not a fact that many other thousands are being held by the Government of Iraq without trial, despite the fact that some have been released under the Iraqi amnesty law? Will Her Majesty's Government press for the earliest possible release or trial of those people still held in Iraq? Is the Minister aware that several hundreds of detainees are being held by the United States in at least four locations in Afghanistan? There are rumours of a further detention centre in Djibouti in Africa, and of other people being held on various naval ships scattered around the world. Does the Minister agree that democracy cannot be defended properly by indefinite detention without trial?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I agree that the International Committee of the Red Cross is an excellent and valuable organisation and should be involved in any areas of detention. On the holding of prisoners in Iraq by the US, the US has an agreement with the Iraqi Government as to its responsibilities in that area. In our own case, we have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqis covering the treatment and handling of detainees. Iraq has committed to honouring its international legal responsibilities towards detainees. The Iraqi Interior, Justice and Defence Ministers have confirmed to us that Iraq’s detention procedures maintain consistency with the principles set out in that MoU. Our support for our Iraqi partners continues on that basis.

I am afraid that I cannot advise the House on numbers of individuals held by the US. I do not know of the various rumours that the noble Lord referred to; I do know that the new Administration have committed themselves to a thorough examination of detention as a result of these events. Of course, the United Kingdom Government are delighted that the US Administration are taking this open and thorough approach.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, does not the Minister’s previous comment make it even more necessary that, instead of this drip-feed of admissions after years of denials and what some of us would call cover-ups, the UK Government agree to an independent inquiry which can give a comprehensive overview of the sorry history of what appears to have been UK official complicity in torture and secret detention? Sooner or later, the truth will come out, probably out of Washington, and this partial information coming out on a Thursday afternoon will be seen to be deeply unsatisfactory.

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I bear the scars of Geoff Hoon making a complaint about me when, as vice-chair of the European Parliament’s inquiry on extraordinary rendition, I led a delegation to London in October 2006. I made a press comment, and said:

“Ministers and officials would be pressed on the extent to which intelligence and security personnel had been involved in the transport and interrogation of suspects in possible violation of the UK’s human rights obligations”.

He said that I had prejudged the issue, since when we have heard David Miliband’s admission about Diego Garcia being used for refuelling of rendition flights, we have heard a lot about Binyam Mohamed, and we have heard about the apparent collusion of MI5 in the abduction of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna. Would it not be better to grasp the nettle and get everything out into the public domain? As the noble Lord said, what the Minister is saying is the tip of the iceberg; there are thousands of detainees whose status is of concern and who appear to be in legal limbo. Will the Government agree sooner rather than later to get the whole story out so that we can really lance the boil?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am sorry that I can give no assurances to that effect. We have said categorically that the United Kingdom’s forces are not involved in extraordinary rendition. In no way have we been involved in facilitating torture of detainees. We think that we have answered that question over and again and we do not intend to go any further in that area. We think that is entirely right that the ISC continues its interest in this matter; indeed, it held an inquiry on rendition and published a report. That report concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the UK had been complicit in US extraordinary rendition operations. We believe that the ISC and its processes, and the extent to which the security services in this country are now liable to proper supervision and have to work to proper legal standards, put us in a very good position to deny the allegations.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, remembering the extraordinary care which we were required to take, when I was serving in places such as Northern Ireland, to record the numbers of people who were detained, I am appalled that there is a discrepancy as large as 1,000 between the numbers of people who have been detained and the figures released. Is there more to come? Will the Minister assure the House that we will not hear of charges that may follow against members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces who have been involved in this detention process?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reminder about Northern Ireland, where, because of the length of the campaign, we ended up with a proper and accurate system of recording it. There is no question that, in Iraq, we ended up with multiple records and double counting. We have constructed an historically accurate database; the figures from that are in the Statement, and I will not repeat them.

As to whether I believe that there are there further corrections to come out, the answer is no. I have been briefed on the thoroughness of this project and believe that the answers that have come out are right. However, I stress that this Statement is one of contrition; we have apologised to Parliament for not keeping the

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records accurately and have promised to change the procedures to ensure that they are, in future, accurate. The procedures, on which I have been briefed, are clearly different. We will have an accurate picture of any future detainees.

In a sense, the noble Lord has asked me to prove a negative. There is nothing to suggest that any events will be revealed from future data, whereby individuals and the Armed Forces will be at some risk, because there is nothing to suggest that the data have any holes in them when it comes to transferring individuals to other custody. However, regarding how individuals were treated when they were apprehended and detained by the United Kingdom or, when under our various Memorandums of Understanding, handed over to the US, two individuals were treated, in a sense, outside of the terms of that Memorandum of Understanding. That is regrettable—it was an error and the Statement apologises for it.

Lord Elton: My Lords, what is implied by the term “unlawful enemies”—as opposed to “lawful enemies”—by which the United States categorises the two people we handed over to them? How does that distinction affect their treatment by the United States under United States law? That is something that we will need to know if we are to hand people over.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, it is fair to say that the categorisation is a US one, but not one that we recognise. It is important to seek and to be given reassurance about detainees’ welfare and treatment and the safeguards and guarantees that the United States has put in place to prevent any repetition. The US has this categorisation and a process that results from it, of a six months’ review of the risk represented by held individuals. It has reviewed, and regularly reviews, all held detainees to see whether they represent a serious danger. These individuals have fallen within that review process and are currently assessed as being an imperative danger. I cannot go much further on that point.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am in a minority in the Joint Committee on Human Rights in having supported the Government on the issue of Memoranda of Understanding. I have done so in the face of criticism by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; I have done so on the basis that the assurances contained in Memoranda of Understanding would be honoured and there would be independent monitoring to make sure that they were complied with.

The Minister may not be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is investigating some issues relating to what he has just said and has asked Ministers to appear in front of it. I do not want to say anything that would prejudice that. Will the Minister, in his mood of contrition, which is appreciated, at least tell the House that the Government will publish information, not about individual detainees and their treatment, but about the system? What instructions were in place? What safeguards were sought? What went wrong with that system? Above all, what is the new system in place that will give some assurance of proper safeguards against abuse? I ask that question because, when we debated the invasion of Iraq, I was

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the only Member of the House who raised issues about humanitarian and human rights’ compliance rather than about the legality of the war. I am most dismayed by what I have heard today.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Memoranda of Understanding are crucially an assurance against abuse. People whom the UK transfers to US, Iraqi or indeed Afghan custody are transferred on the basis of commitments that they will not be abused, that they will be treated within international law, and that international law will be respected. That is a live issue between us and we continue to seek assurances about it. If the Government are able to say any more on that point, I will write to the noble Lord and place a record in the Library.

What has gone wrong in the detail of this is not that people have been abused. We are confident that these individuals have not been abused. We are confident that they are in proper facilities and that the International Committee of the Red Cross has access to these individuals, therefore underwriting that confidence.

Lord Elton: My Lords, there is another question that troubles me slightly. The noble Lord said, making a perfectly respectable defence of his position, that we do not discuss the operations of Special Forces. Your Lordships do not want to hear about the operations of Special Forces, but about the treatment of the people who may have been captured by them. Will he tell us anything about that?

Lord Tunnicliffe: I will simply give the straightforward commitment that our forces are not involved in operations which would lead to the abuse of individuals captured by them in these joint operations. That is a commitment both for conventional and non-conventional operations. I cannot go into any more detail than that. All our operations are compatible with international law and our humanitarian obligations. That is an essential part of our policy. The reason for peacekeeping, and for being in Afghanistan and Iraq, is about those standards and our forces maintaining them. They are not complicit in any operations that offend those standards.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I accept the intention, but is inquiry being made about those individual cases or are the Government simply resting on the assumption that their standards are always adhered to?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, it would be more sensible at this point for me to examine the record and the detail of the noble Lord’s question. If we can usefully add to it, we will write to him and place a copy in the Library.

Foreign Policy

Debate (Continued)

2.59 pm

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I start by congratulating two people, one of whom was here a moment ago. I wanted to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on choosing a topic for debate that has turned out to produce an excellent debate, which we still have not finished. I congratulate noble Lords still planning to

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speak on staying in the Chamber. The other person whom I wanted to congratulate is the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who made remarks on the future of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development with which I wholly agree and which I hope he will push further.

It will not surprise noble Lords that I want to speak on Zimbabwe. It is far from clear whether the present transitional Government in that country will provide a workable basis on which to move forward from the current multiple crises of governance, human rights, disease and economic collapse. Mugabe is rejoicing in the fact that the situation is very complicated and gives him every opportunity to use his devious skills. The situation has also become sufficiently important for the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of York and Canterbury to enter the debate by urging people to pray for the future of Zimbabwe.

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