Detainees

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 11:30 am, 18th July 2019

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s approach to the detention and rendition of detainees overseas. Our policy on this issue remains clear: the Government do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment for any purpose. To do so would not only be wrong and incompatible with the United Kingdom’s commitments under international conventions—such as the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, to which this country is a signatory—but it would also be a betrayal of everything that we stand for as a nation, in terms of our promotion of human rights and protection of human dignity.

There is already clear guidance and training for UK personnel dealing with detainees who are held by others. That guidance has been reviewed at the Prime Minister’s request by Sir Adrian Fulford, the independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner, to see how it could be improved further, taking account of the views of the Intelligence and Security Committee and civil society. The Government have accepted Sir Adrian’s proposals in full, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a written ministerial statement earlier today.

We have published new guidance entitled “The principles relating to the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas and the passing and receipt of intelligence relating to detainees”, which will replace the current consolidated guidance at the end of this year. The principles will be extended so that they explicitly cover the National Crime Agency and SO15 Metropolitan Police Service.

I would like to thank Sir Adrian for his work. The principles address many of the points raised by the Intelligence and Security Committee in recommending changes to the consolidated guidance. The new document will now be explicitly engaged when there is a risk of extraordinary rendition, rendition or unlawful killing occurring in the context of detention. It will also apply not only when UK personnel are working with Governments but when non-state actors or groups are involved. The principles introduce a formal error reporting obligation and a formal whistleblowing provision, in line with the commissioner’s statutory responsibilities in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.

These new principles are part of steps taken by successive Governments to understand what happened in the aftermath of the appalling terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and to put in place improved policies and practice. As the Prime Minister said in a written statement on 28 June last year,

“With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that UK personnel were working within a new and challenging operating environment for which, in some cases, they were not prepared. It took too long to recognise that guidance and training for staff was inadequate, and too long to understand fully and take appropriate action on the risks arising from our engagement with international partners on detainee issues. The Agencies responded to what they thought were isolated allegations and incidents of mistreatment, but the ISC concludes that they should have realised the extent to which others were using unacceptable practices as part of a systematic programme. The Agencies acknowledge that they did not fully understand this quickly enough and they regret not doing so.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2018;
Vol. 643, c. 41WS.]

It is important to say, however, that the ISC found no evidence to support allegations that UK personnel directly carried out physical mistreatment of detainees.

Lessons have been learned from these challenging events, and from the various independent examinations of detainee issues that have taken place over the past 15 years or so. These have included: three separate investigations and reports published by the ISC in 2005, 2007 and 2018; Sir Peter Gibson’s detainee inquiry report, published in 2013; related police investigations; and thorough internal reviews by the security and intelligence agencies of their involvement in detainee cases from 2001 to 2010, which the ISC examined in its most recent report.

The position now is very different from the one confronting UK personnel in the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001. Better guidance and training is coupled with a world-leading independent oversight regime, underpinned by the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. This legislation has given the ISC enhanced powers to oversee the activities of the security and intelligence agencies, alongside the statutory role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who reports annually on his remit, including the application of detainee policy. The consolidated guidance and new principles make it clear that Ministers must be consulted if there is a serious or real risk of detainee mistreatment occurring at the hands of others, and of course the ministerial code reflects the overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law.

I will turn now to the question of whether there should be a further inquiry into detainee mistreatment and rendition issues. As I told the House on Monday, in response to an urgent question from my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, since publishing our response to the ISC’s reports on detainee mistreatment and rendition on 22 November 2018, the Government have given serious consideration to the examination of detainee issues and whether any more lessons could be learned and, if so, how. My right hon. and learned Friend, as the then Cabinet Office Minister without Portfolio, told the House on 19 December 2013 that once the ISC had completed its most recent work, the Government would

“take a final view as to whether a further judicial inquiry still remains necessary to add any further information of value to future policy making and the national interest.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2013;
Vol. 572, c. 916.]

I undertook to give a definitive answer to that question, and I can confirm today that the Government have decided that it is not necessary to establish a further inquiry. There is no policy reason to do so, given the extensive work already undertaken to improve policies and practices in this area. The Government’s position is also that there is no legal obligation. These matters have been subject to a number of police investigations over the years, including Operations Hinton, Iden and Lydd, and a joint panel was set up by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police Service in January 2012 to consider allegations of UK involvement in detainee mistreatment. None of these police investigations has resulted in further action being taken, although some inquiries are continuing.

Parliament and the public can have confidence in the effectiveness of measures taken since 2010 and the new principles announced by the Government today to strengthen the accountability and oversight by Ministers, Parliament and the independent commissioners of the vital work of our security and intelligence agencies. I commend this statement to the House.