Terrorist Suspects (Renditions)

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:06 pm on 21st February 2008.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary 1:06 pm, 21st February 2008

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on US rendition operations. On 12 December 2005, in response to a parliamentary question from Sir Menzies Campbell, my right hon. Friend Mr. Straw, then Foreign Secretary, updated the House on the subject of terrorist suspects and rendition, stating:

"Careful research by officials has been unable to identify any occasion since 11 September 2001, or earlier in the Bush administration, when we received a request for permission by the United States...for a rendition through UK territory or airspace, nor are we otherwise aware of such a case."—[ Hansard, 12 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 1652W.]

That was supplemented by two further statements in January 2006 and a letter of 6 February 2006 to Mr. Hague.

In March 2007, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave an assurance to the Intelligence and Security Committee that he was satisfied that the US had at no time since 9/11 rendered an individual through the UK or through our overseas territories. In its report on rendition of 28 June 2007, the ISC said:

"We are satisfied that there is no evidence that US rendition flights have used UK airspace (except the two cases in 1998 referred to earlier in this Report) and that there is no evidence of them having landed at UK military airfields."

The Government welcomed those conclusions in their response to the report in July 2007. Parliamentary answers, interviews and letters followed that evidence. I am very sorry indeed to have to report to the House the need to correct those and other statements on the subject, on the basis of new information passed to officials on 15 February 2008 by the US Government.

Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia had not been used for rendition flights, recent US investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when that had in fact occurred. An error in the earlier US records search meant that those cases did not come to light. In both cases, a US plane with a single detainee on board refuelled at the US facility in Diego Garcia. The detainees did not leave the plane, and the US Government have assured us that no US detainees have ever been held on Diego Garcia. US investigations show no record of any other rendition through Diego Garcia or any other overseas territory, or through the UK itself, since then.

Yesterday, US and UK legal teams discussed the issue, and I spoke with Secretary Rice. We both agree that the mistakes made in those two cases are not acceptable, and she shares my deep regret that the information has only just come to light. She emphasised to me that the US Government came to us with the information quickly after they discovered it.

The House and the Government will share deep disappointment at the news, and about its late emergence. That disappointment is shared by our US allies. They recognise the absolute imperative for the British Government to provide accurate information to Parliament. I reaffirm the Government's commitment to that imperative today. We fully accept that the United States gave its earlier assurances in good faith. We accepted those assurances, and indeed referred to them publicly, also in good faith.

For the avoidance of doubt, I have asked my officials to compile a list of all the flights where we have been alerted to concerns regarding rendition through the UK or our overseas territories. Once it is ready we will be sending the list to the US and seeking their specific assurance that none of those flights was used for rendition purposes.

Our counter-terrorism relationship with the United States is vital to UK security. I am absolutely clear that there must and will continue to be the strongest possible intelligence and counter-terrorism relationship with the US, consistent with UK law and our international obligations. As part of our close co-operation, there has long been a regular exchange with the US authorities, in which we have set out, first, that we expect them to seek permission to render detainees via UK territory and airspace, including overseas territories; secondly, that we will grant that permission only if we are satisfied that rendition would accord with UK law and our international obligations; and thirdly, how we understand our obligations under the UN convention against torture. Secretary Rice has underlined to me the firm US understanding that there will be no rendition through the UK, UK airspace or overseas territories without express British Government permission.

The House will want to know what has become of the two individuals in question. There is a limit to what I can say, but I can tell the House the following. The US Government have told us that neither of the men was a British national or a British resident. One is currently in Guantanamo Bay. The other has been released. The House will know that the British Government's long-standing position is that the detention facility at Guantanamo should be closed.

My officials and their US counterparts continue to work through all the details and implications of this information. We will keep procedures under review to ensure that they meet the standards that we have set, and I will, of course, keep the House updated.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

At the outset, may I say that by coming to the House to inform us of the new information quickly after it came to light, the Foreign Secretary has done the right thing, but he will recognise that the information will cause widespread concern, given the categoric nature of the assurances previously given by Mr. Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, and by the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair—assurances which we entirely accept were given in good faith, although they have turned out to be false.

More worrying still, the new information means that very specific assurances about the use of the facilities at Diego Garcia, although given in good faith, have also turned out to be false. The Minister of State, Lord Malloch-Brown, stated in a written answer on 18 July last year:

"The US authorities have repeatedly given us assurances that no terrorist suspects have been, or are being, held at Diego Garcia, or at any time have passed in transit through Diego Garcia or its territorial waters or airspace."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 18 July 2007; Vol. 694, c. WA25.]

The information gives rise to a number of questions. Can the Foreign Secretary say more about how and why the information has suddenly come to light now? How confident is he that further such cases will not come to light? How exhaustive, so far as he knows, has the checking of records by the United States now been? Can he say any more about exactly how the omission—the omission both to ask for permission in the first place and to report afterwards—occurred and whether the United States has made any administrative changes to ensure that any other cases would now come to light?

The Foreign Secretary said that he would compile a list of all previous flights that have alerted concerns and pursue them with the United States, an action of which we in the Opposition strongly approve, but will he impress on the United States Secretary of State the importance of ensuring that all agencies of the US Government understand the importance of the rules that he has reiterated relating to UK law and practice being respected? Can he also assure the House that if any further concerns about specific cases are raised, he will pursue them with the United States on a continuing and systematic basis, rather than as a one-off exercise?

The delay in releasing the information and the evident absence of a request in these cases are bound to undermine public trust to some extent in the arrangements that we have with the United States. Is it not important to do everything possible to strengthen the credibility of our arrangements for the future? In particular, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether procedures for the future can be tightened up or reinforced in any way? Has he received any assurances of changes in internal procedures in the US Government so that the British Government can be confident that the American Administration would indeed make a formal request, when appropriate, for use of our airspace and facilities?

More broadly, whatever the specifics of these cases, their revelation inevitably focuses attention again on the wider issue of how rendition is used. The efforts of the United States, our most important ally, to fight international terror are essential to the security not only of America, but of Britain and many other nations. But allegations that rendition has led to the torture of terrorist suspects has been used to undermine the moral standing of the US and its allies.

If such torture has occurred, it is fundamentally wrong. The Government have taken the view, which we share, that rendition leading to torture is unacceptable, and that they would not approve any instance of rendition that breaches our obligation under the UN convention against torture. Would not the position of the United States and all its allies be strengthened if it, the United States, were to adopt a definition of torture that corresponds more closely to international norms, and if it adopted a higher threshold for rendition to third countries than satisfying itself that it "believes" that the transferred suspect will not be tortured? Is this not something that the Government should now advocate as America's candid friend?

Such differences of practice and definition are at the root of international concern. Would not their satisfactory resolution mean that rather than permanent suspicion and occasional revelations, real trust might be restored for the future?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I quite understand why the right hon. Gentleman has spoken of widespread concern. That was reflected in my statement.

The review that was undertaken by the United States authorities reflects the significant concerns that have been expressed by the Government in the House and more widely in this country. It is a reflection of those concerns that the review took place and brought the case to light. Obviously, the checking of the records in 2002-03 and beyond did not reveal the case. I referred to an administrative error in the work that went into those earlier reviews and I do not have further information about the nature of that error.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about follow-up and how the United States authorities would take matters forward. I discussed with Condoleezza Rice yesterday the importance of the issue and how we follow it through. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks at the end of his response about the importance of confidence existing in the relationship and the nature of the assurances that we give to each other are critical to both the United States and the UK. The work that our officials will be doing with the US officials, which I referred to in my statement, is intended precisely to follow through on those concerns, but I wanted to make a statement to the House even though the officials have not yet had the chance to go to the United States to take forward those talks.

The right hon. Gentleman drew a distinction between the one-off trawl that we will do for the existing cases of particular flights about which concerns have been expressed and which will be raised with the US authorities, and what he called the continuing and systematic work to ensure that the procedures that have been established are upheld. Of course we will look seriously at any serious concerns that are raised with us, and I am sure the United States will want us to do the same as well.

In respect of the public trust that he spoke about, the right hon. Gentleman will know from the earlier correspondence to which I referred that the practice was established in the 1990s for permission to be sought, and in 1998 it was sought in four cases, in two of which rendition occurred and in two of which it did not. There was also a preliminary inquiry, which was referred to in the letter that was sent to him on 6 February 2006 about the 2004 case. I associate myself entirely with his view that rendition to torture would be quite wrong and is something that the UK Government should never participate in and certainly not instigate.

I can tell the House that in this case we have been told that the two individuals involved were not taken to a secret detention facility or subject to water-boarding or other similar forms of interrogation. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of advocating an international standard of definition, and that is what we do through our signature of international conventions on torture and through our adherence to our definition of it. We will certainly continue to do that.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement. However, as the Foreign Affairs Committee has been pressing his two predecessors on these matters for several years, I feel that I must place on the record the fact that when, on 29 April 2007, we published our human rights annual report, in which we raised continuing concerns about this matter, we received the following Government response:

"We are clear that the US would not render anyone through UK airspace (including the Overseas Territories) without our permission."

That statement was clearly inaccurate. In the current situation, and on the basis of the information that we now know, will the Foreign Secretary formally today withdraw that statement? I hope that we as a House will make clear that the fact that the United States Bush Administration have clearly misled or lied to our Government has resulted in our Government inadvertently misleading a Select Committee of this House and Members of this House. The United States Administration have to bear in mind the fact that that is a most serious matter and that we do not wish to see it repeated.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee is, of course, absolutely right that this is a most serious matter. I hope that he will appreciate that the whole point of my statement is to recognise that in parliamentary questions and a range of interviews, statements and letters, information that has turned out to be incorrect was given.

In respect of the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I should say that I believe what I said in my statement: the information and assurances were given to us in good faith by the United States authorities. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important that we work very hard to ensure that procedures are in place to ensure that this does not happen again.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his statement today and for his courtesy in personally briefing me this morning. Although we are grateful that the information has now been revealed, I hope that he will agree that the admission vindicates the concerns that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches have had for several years—and in particular the determined efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell in continually raising these matters.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that Tony Blair's previous dismissal of our calls for an inquiry into rendition as "absurd" now itself looks absurd? Is it not time for an independent inquiry into any UK involvement in renditions, extraordinary or not, and into what role the British territory of Diego Garcia has played in the US rendition programme? Can he absolutely confirm that in this case no one anywhere in the British Government gave permission for the renditions?

On rendition via Diego Garcia, has the Foreign Secretary asked the US authorities about allegations that US detainees have been held on ships serviced from Diego Garcia and possibly stationed within UK territorial waters? Many commentators will find it hard to believe that there have been so few renditions via British territory. The Foreign Secretary's officials are compiling a list of other flights alleged to have involved rendition—will he publish that list so that it can be scrutinised? Will he be prepared to accept additions to that list from responsible and informed parties such as Amnesty International, Reprieve and Human Rights Watch?

The Foreign Secretary knows that one of my constituents, Bisher al-Rawi, was the subject of proven rendition and torture by the US authorities, although he has now been released from Guantanamo Bay after nearly five years without charge. The Foreign Secretary will know that the Intelligence and Security Committee found that the US had shown a complete lack of regard for British concerns by ignoring the prohibition on action being taken as a result of shared intelligence in my constituent's case. Has he obtained assurances that in no other case has shared intelligence been so abused, and has he obtained an apology for Mr. al-Rawi?

Rendition is state-sponsored abduction and water-boarding is torture. We must not only be assured that Britain has not been used to facilitate such practices, but we must tell our friends in the United States that we deplore such practices. Will the UK Government now condemn the practice of extraordinary rendition in all cases? Until the US gives it up and closes Guantanamo Bay and the secret detention centres that President Bush admits it still has, we must make it clear that the US is not only infringing international law, but potentially undermining the fight against international terrorism.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

First, I want to reiterate something that I think was clear in my statement, but with which I am happy to associate myself again. The questions asked by Sir Menzies Campbell and the all-party parliamentary group are precisely the sort of parliamentary interrogation and questioning that is wholly appropriate. It was as a result, in part, of those questions that such extensive trawling was done in 2005 and 2006 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn.

A very full inquiry was done into rendition by the ISC; the hon. Gentleman cited it himself. I believe that it went into the issues in great detail. The hon. Gentleman asked particularly about the territorial waters around Diego Garcia and I can confirm that they are part of the discussions that happen in the annual talks with the United States about Diego Garcia, and that the commitments that it has made include them.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would publish a list of the cases that we forward to the United States. I am happy to do that. The cases will have been put into the public domain in a range of places anyway by some of the organisations, including Amnesty International, that he mentioned. However, at the appropriate time I will be happy to find a way to put them into the public domain in a way that ensures that they are accessible—not least because that will prevent people from writing to ask us to investigate cases that are already being investigated. In respect of extraordinary rendition, I do not think that I could have been clearer in my statement. I said that the UK will in no way contribute to, instigate or condone the process of extraordinary rendition or rendition to torture of any kind.

I turn to my final point. The hon. Gentleman talked about our friends in the United States, but I was sorry that he also said that it was hard to believe that there had not been other cases. I say to him in all candour that if he likes, he can run a foreign policy on the basis that it is hard to believe the commitments of our most serious and long-standing ally. However, I do not believe that that is the right basis on which to run a foreign policy. Of course we should ask questions of our most trusted ally; of course it should engage with us and have clear procedures. However, I do not think that we can conduct a foreign policy on the basis of disbelief or of a presumption of deceit, which I think lay behind some of what the hon. Gentleman said. I hope that he will recognise that a presumption of deceit is not an adequate basis on which to conduct our relations.

The hon. Gentleman referred to his own constituent and I understand the work that he has rightly done on that case as a constituency MP. However, having looked at the issue this morning, the hon. Gentleman will, I think, agree with me that the ISC went through it in some detail and found no evidence that the UK had been complicit in the rendition to Guantanamo Bay.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Senator Dick Marty, the Council of Europe rapporteur on rendition, described a "global spider's web" of CIA detentions and renditions; clearly, we have been unwittingly drawn into that. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the evidence that the Government gave to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into UK compliance with the UN convention against torture, to check its accuracy? Will he also look again at the recommendations that we made about rendition—in particular that any civil aircraft against which there are credible allegations of involvement should be required to land to be checked if it is going to a country known to practise torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, and that no state aircraft suspected of involvement in extraordinary rendition should be permitted to transit UK airspace without permission being granted for UK authorities to search it?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I will certainly look at the report to which my hon. Friend refers. He referred to a spider's web of secret detention. It is important to repeat that we have been told by the United States that neither of the two people involved in this case were involved in secret detention centres, nor were they subject to water-boarding or other similar forms of torture. President Bush said, I think in 2005, that no one was being kept in any secret detention centre as of 2005. However, I will certainly look at the important issues that my hon. Friend raises, because for reasons of substance and of the symbolism to which the spokesmen for the Opposition parties referred, it is very important that the highest standards are met.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Liberal Democrat, North East Fife

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to make a statement.

May I take up with the Foreign Secretary the question of belief? In December 2005, I believed his predecessor, and his predecessor believed the American Government, but both of us have been proved wrong. Is it any wonder, then, that there is some scepticism about the extent to which we can believe information that is now being put before us? The issue here is not met by expressions of disappointment. The truth is that this is a gross embarrassment for the British Government, in spite of their good faith, involving as it does a breach of our moral obligations and possibly of our legal responsibilities as well, which the Foreign Secretary hinted at in his statement when he referred to the fact that there have been consultations between legal teams of the United Kingdom and the United States.

In the further investigation that is to take place, will the Foreign Secretary ensure that particular attention is paid to the airports at Stornoway, Campbeltown and Prestwick, because of their convenience for transatlantic refuelling?

Does not all this reveal that as far as Diego Garcia is concerned, we have absolutely no effective control over what happens there? For how long is that sustainable? If the roles were reversed, is it conceivable that the American Government, or indeed the American Congress, would tolerate such a set of circumstances?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

As I said earlier, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pursued this case with complete public-spiritedness and seriousness of purpose, and I entirely recognise that. If there are other individual cases that he believes that we should be investigating, of course they will be added to the list. I should say to him that this information has come to light as a result of an American investigation that was brought to us. That shows that the American Government recognise that it is as much in their interest as it is in ours that accuracy is maintained in these areas. That is important, without in any way excusing the mistakes—I used that word in my statement—that have been made.

It is important that the agreements that we have with the United States in respect of Diego Garcia have the force of treaty. The letters of 1966 and 1976 have the force of treaty, and they are legally binding agreements. I hope that on due consideration the right hon. and learned Gentleman will reflect on how to improve those procedures—perhaps during the inquiry that the Foreign Affairs Committee is conducting, which he has now joined—but I hope that he will agree that they are set down with statutory force under the current system.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton

May I commend my right hon. Friend for the speed with which he has come before the House, for the frankness with which he has detailed the situation that he has found, and for upholding in the strongest terms this Government's adherence to international standards on human rights? May I put it to him that the best way of avoiding any further episodes of this kind, in which our Government are a totally innocent party, will be for the United States to end rendition flights altogether, for it to end the disgusting practice of water-boarding, which was recently graphically described in an article in The New Yorker and which my right hon. Friend has rightly repudiated, and, as my right hon. Friend recommended, for it to close totally the illegal facility at Guantanamo Bay?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The values that we talk about, which are the highest values of human rights and respect for the rule of law, need to be adhered to in every respect, and it is very important that they are seen to be adhered to. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife referred to embarrassment in respect of disclosure. I think that it is a very important part of our system that there is a far greater embarrassment in trying to cover anything like this up. It is right that the American Government came to us quickly as a result of discovering this, and absolutely right that we are clear that clearly upholding our commitment to our own Parliament and to the values to which we refer is central to our case.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

As the Foreign Secretary is aware, the British Government have entered into memorandums of understanding with the Government of Iraq and the Government of Afghanistan with regard to the transfer of detainees. Will he tell the House whether, since those memorandums have been entered into, there have been any transfers of persons detained by British forces in either Afghanistan or Iraq by third parties to Guantanamo Bay?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I want to go into the details of that and write to the hon. Gentleman with a clear answer. What I can say to him absolutely clearly is that in no way would we be complicit in rendering people to torture. That is something that I have made clear, but I will write to him with the details in respect of his very specific question.

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho PPS (Rt Hon David Hanson, Minister of State), Ministry of Justice

What is so special about a relationship where one of the partners appears to abuse trust, truth and respect?

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Thank you Lynda for pointing this out - we are being abused and taken...

Submitted by caroline smith Continue reading

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I understand the anger that is felt by my hon. Friend about this issue and no doubt about the issues that will be raised with her by her constituents. I hope that she could say that the breach that has occurred in respect of this issue is not the defining element of our relationship with the United States; that is why I picked up on what was said by Mr. Davey. I do not believe that it is a relationship based on deceit; I believe that it is a relationship based on shared values and shared commitments. I hope that the fact that an organisation such as the ISC investigated, on behalf of this House, this particular issue of rendition and said that the relationship with the United States had "saved lives"—British lives—will enable my hon. Friend to reflect that it is possible to talk about a relationship that has enduring value for the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of this country. It is very important that we explain that side of the relationship as well.

Photo of Michael Mates Michael Mates Conservative, East Hampshire

While accepting the good faith of the Government in saying what they said, which has turned out to be wrong, this is at least the second occasion in this whole rendition saga when we have had cause to complain very seriously about American actions. This may have been due to inefficiency or inadvertency. The breaking of the caveat in the case of those people who were rendered from Gambia to Guantanamo Bay was not inadvertent or due to bad administration—it was a deliberate failure to observe caveats that have been observed between our two countries. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will reinforce the necessity for absolute openness and honesty with our closest ally.

Diego Garcia is British territory, as we know. There is an RAF presence at Diego Garcia—in fact, it is called RAF Diego Garcia. In reviewing these arrangements, will the Foreign Secretary make certain that the people there are aware of the flights that go in and out, so that this sort of thing cannot happen without at least British personnel on the ground knowing about landings on British territory?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about the ISC report and the conclusions that were come to. The implication in his question—that these arrangements need to be understood throughout the British system and the American system—is an important one. One of the recommendations of the ISC inquiry into rendition was that there was a clear point of contact in the British Government for leadership on this issue. There were a range of other recommendations to ensure that that was properly understood, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that they are being followed up properly within Government, led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I can also assure him that in my discussion with Secretary Rice yesterday there was no room for misunderstanding on either side about the seriousness of this issue and about the determination on both our parts to ensure that there is full adherence to the commitment to seek permission for any flight like this. That is the founding basis in respect of the rendition issue. In respect of records and other issues, such as civilian and military flights in Diego Garcia, that is a slightly separate matter, but what must be clear is that there is no evidence that there has been any rendition through UK airspace, UK territory or UK overseas territory since 2002, and that must continue to be adhered to.

Several hon. Members:

rose —

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I have other important business to protect. I will try to call a number of other hon. Members. I would appreciate short questions and short answers. I shall not be calling hon. Members who were not here at the commencement of the statement.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

However much international terrorism remains a constant danger, and however much the United States is a close ally, have we not a responsibility to say that so much of its practices in dealing with terrorism—the torture, and the manner in which its reputation has been so tarnished, for reasons that have been mentioned already—is unacceptable? Should we not make it quite clear to the United States, as an ally, that such practices are totally unacceptable, and are rejected by this House?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

Mr. Deputy Speaker, in light of your injunction to be short, I say that, yes, we should always be clear about our own positions, and that is what I shall seek to do.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Although it is clear that this revelation has been volunteered by the Americans, and that presumably the Foreign Secretary would not be making this statement if they had not come forward in an honest way, will he take the opportunity to remind our American allies of Britain's long record of not using torture in interrogations, even when the very survival of our country was at stake, as in the second world war? Will he remind them that Sir Robert Thompson, the leading counter-insurgency specialist, wrote:

"There is a very strong temptation...for government forces to act outside the law...Not only is this morally wrong, but, over a period, it will create more practical difficulties for a government than it solves."

This would not be such an issue if it abandoned such practice.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

That is a helpful quotation, which I have not heard before. Obviously, I understand the spirit behind it. The hon. Gentleman will also recognise that there is a live debate in the United States about this very issue, and about the right way to prosecute the struggle against global terrorism.

Photo of Ian Cawsey Ian Cawsey Labour, Brigg and Goole

I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to the House so quickly and for giving us a statement with his characteristic clarity and honesty. Hon. Members have every confidence in his commitment to human rights, but can he give an assurance to the House that the US Government understand our deep disappointment with their actions, and that he is confident that there will be no repetition of their failure in the future?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his words. I believe that there is a determination on the part of Secretary Rice and her colleagues, as evidenced by the way in which they have come forward in this case, and by the way in which they engaged with the discussions we had yesterday both at the official and the political level, to get to the bottom of these issues and make sure that they are brought into the public domain in a timely way. I can certainly give my hon. Friend my commitment that I will continue to set out the British case without fear or favour.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

The Foreign Secretary said that there was a feeling of great disappointment in the House. I would say that it is alarm. Many right hon. and hon. Members raised these points at the time, based on evidence in the press and authoritative comment by non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty. Should not the Government have made further inquiries at the time?

The right hon. Gentleman referred to "a list of all the flights where we have been alerted to concerns regarding rendition"; who alerted the Government about those, and when did that happen? Finally, the right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to distance himself from rendition of all kinds. Why, then, allow permission to be sought for it to happen?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

In respect of the hon. Gentleman's last point, the ISC addressed that issue in a way that the Government recognised and agreed with, which is that so-called extraordinary rendition to torture is always wrong—it is illegal and immoral—but it is not the case that all rendition is, by definition, illegal. I referred earlier to the 1998 cases, two of which were accepted and two of which were refused. They were renditions to the US system, and there were full legal rights for the accused in those cases, although two were refused.

The hon. Gentleman's second question was about who alerted us. It is precisely the organisations and others, including hon. Members, who have written to us. My final point refers to his first one, which is the extent to which the UK Government took up the questions that were addressed. That is a very important point. I can absolutely assure him that, not just in annual meetings with the American Government, but at ministerial and official level, that topic was regularly raised—that is why I used that phrase in my statement. There was a regular seeking of the assurances, precisely in order to assure ourselves that we could confirm to the House that there was no evidence of the type being suggested. The trawls done by the US Government at this time did not produce the evidence, deeply regrettably, but now they have. I totally understand why the hon. Gentleman wants to make sure that we follow through all the allegations that have been made, and I am determined to do so.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

Could the Foreign Secretary give any further information about how the truth of this situation came to light?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

Exactly as I said in my statement, which is that the United States authorities, recognising the degree of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary concern about the issue, launched their own investigation—a further investigation. The evidence came to light relatively recently and they came to us. This is a US investigation and a US volunteering of the evidence.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

The Foreign Secretary has referred several times to the ISC inquiry, which, as he will be aware, looked at the case of my constituent, Jamil el-Banna, as well as that of a constituent of my hon. Friend Mr. Davey, and their illegal rendition from the Gambia—then on to torture and Guantanamo Bay. The Foreign Secretary has admitted today that some of the information used for the wider inquiry by the ISC was incorrect—that is the point of his statement. Does that not underline the need for a full, independent, judicial inquiry into British involvement in rendition?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

As the hon. Lady knows, I genuinely respect the way in which she and Mr. Davey have taken up the cause of their constituents. We have talked about the application that has now been made, in respect of British residents, to bring them back from Guantanamo Bay. I genuinely understand that. But when she talks about British involvement, it is important that we understand that this is a matter of the United States seeking our permission, and there is no evidence of them having done so, other than in these two cases. Actually, they did not seek our permission in these two cases.

I hope that the hon. Lady will understand that the inquiry she is calling for into British involvement is one that, by definition, is trying to prove a negative, which is a very difficult thing to do. The ISC inquiry was well founded, serious and did get through all the issues. It will be for the ISC and its Chairman—some of the ISC members are here—to decide whether they want to follow that up, and how they may want to do so. I have confidence in that inquiry and I have heard nothing to suggest that anyone should not have confidence in it.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

I welcome the statement, but I am confused. The UK Government rightly condemn extraordinary rendition as illegal kidnapping. It looks to me as if ordinary rendition is also kidnapping, to avoid the scrutiny of extradition proceedings. But the UK Government, particularly in the statement today—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I have asked for short questions, and I have not heard a question yet. I call Mr. Rob Marris—quickly.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The important distinction concerns rendition to torture, which is illegal and immoral in all cases; as the ISC showed, there is a distinction between that and, for example, the 1998 cases, which involved rendition to a justice system. That is an obvious distinction. If my hon. Friend is interested in the legal background to this, I am happy to write to him with some further legal details.

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Actually no. Wriggling out via a disingenuous answer will not help. Rendition ("extraordinary" or not) to Guantanamo is not to a lawfully recognised "justice system": at the time when the renditions occurred the jutice facilities at...

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the speed with which he has come to the House, the manner in which he has made his statement, and his agreement to publish the list. Could he go a little further and say when he thinks that that list will be sent to the USA, and when he expects a response?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

A very short answer would be no. I am not able to say that, but I obviously recognise the public and parliamentary interest in this issue. We will certainly try to gather the evidence together with due speed, and I am sure that the American authorities will want to address the issue in a similar way.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Culture, Media & Sport

A trust has been breached and the question is how we re-establish it. May I urge the Foreign Secretary to speak to his counterparts in the United States and ask them to carry out an audit of exactly how every detainee arrived in Guantanamo Bay? It is hard to believe that only one went through a British overseas territory.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

Certainly the conversation I held with Secretary Rice yesterday revealed determination on both our parts. We went through the hard-to-believe question earlier and I do not want to repeat that. However, the United States recognises the need to move with genuine clarity and transparency on the issues. I certainly want to move forward on that basis.