Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Response to the Prime Minister's Statement on the treatment of d

House of Commons - 6th July 2010

 

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the Royal Marine who died on Thursday, the soldier from the Royal Dragoon Guards who died yesterday, and the soldier from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, who died from wounds sustained in Afghanistan yesterday? Our thoughts are with their grieving families.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. The use of torture is morally abhorrent and has no place in this country or in any civilised society. It is against our law in this country, and indeed it is one of only a small number of offences that can be brought to court in this country no matter where in the world the offence was committed. It is a grave crime against humanity, and its prohibition is embodied in international law. There must be no hiding place for those who practise it and no excuse for those who turn a blind eye to it. The United Kingdom should always be at the forefront of international efforts to detect and expose torture and to bring those responsible for it to justice. To play our part in leading the world, we must lead by example.

I reiterate our condemnation of the US Guantanamo detention centre. It is clearly in breach of the law, which is why it is not on the US mainland and why we made great efforts to secure the release of British nationals and British residents from Guantanamo-the only country that successfully brought back its citizens. With our having secured the release of all our citizens and all but one of our residents, may I ask whether the Prime Minister is continuing the efforts that we made to bring back the final remaining British resident who is still detained?

May I agree with the Prime Minister that it is right that anyone who takes part in or aids and abets torture is criminally liable and must be accountable for their actions and responsible to the criminal courts? There is, of course, a criminal investigation under way, which was referred to the police by the then Attorney-General Baroness Scotland. Will the Prime Minister confirm that that investigation will proceed to its conclusion independently and unimpeded?

I agree with the Prime Minister that it is right that we have proper accountability for our security services, and I reaffirm our support in that respect for the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I welcome his

appointment of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) to chair the committee. He will undertake that important work with the integrity and commitment for which he is respected in all parts of the House, ensuring that the ISC plays its part in the strong framework of accountability that includes accountability to Ministers; to the heads of the agencies; to the two commissioners for the intelligence services, both retired High Court judges; to the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile, to whom I also pay tribute; and to the courts.

I welcome the publication today of consolidated guidance for intelligence officers and the military on the questioning of suspects held overseas. That was a complex process, which we committed to and which was under way, so we are pleased that it has been completed with publication today.

I hope that the administrative inquiry led by Sir Peter Gibson, who is one of the Intelligence Services Commissioners, which the Prime Minister has announced today, will help bring the matter to a conclusion. Can he tell the House a bit more about the terms under which the inquiry will be conducted? What will it be able to do that the Intelligence and Security Committee is not able to do? Will the inquiry have extra powers that the ISC does not have, and if so, what?

The Prime Minister has told the House that the inquiry will be able to have some of its hearings in public; the ISC, of course, can do that. He has told the House that the inquiry will be able to look at all the information relevant to its work, including secret information. As I understand it, that is the case with the ISC. He says that it will have access to all relevant Government papers, including those held by the intelligence services, and I very much hope that that will be the case for the ISC. He also says that it will be able to take evidence in public, including from those who have brought accusations against the Government and their representatives and interest groups. That is, of course, the case with the ISC too. He concluded that the inquiry would have the full co-operation of the civil service and intelligence services, and of course we hope that that is always the case with the ISC.

The Prime Minister has confirmed that concluding the question of criminal responsibility will take precedence, and that the administrative inquiry will start only when the criminal investigation and any proceedings thereafter are concluded. As he said, there are currently under way a number of cases in the civil courts in which former detainees are taking action against members of the security services. Can he clarify more specifically the effect of the mediation in advance of the administrative inquiry on these cases? Can he confirm that those cases will not be superseded by the inquiry, which would need the consent of the plaintiffs and any future plaintiffs? Can he clarify the circumstances in which compensation might be awarded if the courts ultimately found that there was no liability?

Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the importance of the Human Rights Act 1998, which enshrines in British law the European convention on human rights and the protections that article 3 affords:

 

    "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"?

 

Will he affirm to the House today his support for the Human Rights Act, which ensures that, when there is a breach of human rights, including the right not to be tortured, the victim can take action in our courts rather than spending up to seven years taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg? Will he reaffirm that it is never right for us to deport from this country those who would face torture in their home country?

I invite the Prime Minister to reaffirm the UK's support for the work of the United Nations to end torture, including the convention against torture and the 2002 optional protocol, which establishes an international system of inspections for places of detention.

So that the security services can proceed with their important work to protect this country, with all inquiries concluded, will the Prime Minister confirm how long he expects the inquiry to take from when it starts work? He said that it would take no longer than a year. We hope that it can start as soon as possible, but will he explain how he believes that it will be able to start before the end of the year?

I endorse the Prime Minister's support for the difficult and often dangerous work of our security services. The whole country has reason to be grateful to officers from all branches of the intelligence services for their fearless work throughout the world to keep this country safe.

 

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