Iraq: Security Situation and Allegations of Mistreatment

– in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 10 May 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 5:00, 10 May 2004

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence earlier this afternoon in another place on Iraq, the current security situation and allegations of mistreatment. The Statement is as follows:

"First of all I would like to bring the House up to date in relation to the current security situation in Iraq.

"Recent weeks have seen British forces, our coalition allies and the Iraqi police facing violent attacks in southern Iraq. This weekend saw the most violence so far, with more than 100 engagements between violent insurgents and coalition forces. Eleven British soldiers and one Dane were injured in these clashes. Our forces have captured a very large quantity of arms and ammunition from the Muqtada militia. The insurgents are armed with mortars, rocket propelled grenades and a wealth of automatic weapons. We have captured 10 multi-launch rocket tubes, 300 mortar rounds and three wire-guided missiles over this weekend.

"This upsurge in violence appears to have followed calls at some Friday prayers for attacks against the coalition. Many of those who responded have a violent and criminal background that predates the arrival of the coalition in Iraq last year. They are thugs, not freedom fighters. They do not enjoy the support of the majority of people in Iraq who welcome the strong security action we are taking. These attacks against Iraqis and Iraqi institutions are a challenge to the rule of law, an attempt to disrupt reconstruction efforts and an attempt to deliberately damage the transition to a democratic Iraq. No sensible person can condone these attacks—everyone should support our efforts to deal with them in the interests of the Iraqi people.

"The situation in both Basra and Al Amarah remains tense, but Iraqi police are patrolling and are engaged in other security tasks. Further violence is likely in the coming days. British and Iraqi forces will continue to confront such challenges. As ever, they will do so with the minimum necessary use of force and with great care to avoid an unnecessary impact on the wider population.

"Last week my right honourable friend the Minister for Armed Forces made a Statement about allegations of abuse by UK forces in Iraq. I would like to deal with developments since that Statement.

"There have been further details and images of abuse by US forces, and further claims against British soldiers published mainly in the Daily Mirror. Last week my right honourable friend made clear that if allegations are found to be true, then those responsible for damaging the otherwise excellent reputation of our Armed Forces will be rooted out and dealt with.

"The unauthorised actions of a very few must not be allowed to undermine the outstanding work of tens of thousands of British soldiers and civilians who have served with distinction, compassion and sensitivity in Iraq now for over a year. We regret the shadow that has been cast across the excellent work being undertaken, under very difficult circumstances, to establish security and to rebuild Iraq.

"The UK requires its forces to act at all times within the UK law, which means that they must comply with the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law. Allegations of improper behaviour will be thoroughly investigated. We are not in any way complacent about such allegations.

"The 33 cases of Iraqi civilian deaths, injuries and ill-treatment, which my right honourable friend mentioned last week, that have been or are under investigation, testify to our determination. These investigations were not begun in response to the ICRC, to Amnesty or as the result of media pressure. We investigate ourselves through the Royal Military Police Special Investigations Branch immediately evidence is to hand.

"In these investigations it is essential that the integrity of the criminal justice process is maintained. This can involve detailed and lengthy processes, but these are crucial to allow the necessary impartial evaluation of the evidence. I can confirm today that two cases have reached an advanced stage with decisions on prosecution pending.

"Obviously, it is important that the legal processes should be completed independently, but I want to say on behalf of the British Government that we unreservedly apologise to any Iraqis, where the evidence shows they have been mistreated—whether, as Amnesty has set out in recent correspondence, in the general interactions between British troops on the ground in Iraq, or in the more specific issues raised by the ICRC about Iraqis detained in British controlled facilities.

"The confidential report from the ICRC to Ambassador Bremer in February dealt with detention issues. We have always maintained a close and constructive relationship with the ICRC in Iraq. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces had a meeting with Dr Jacob Kellenburger, ICRC President, in May last year, and officials in the Ministry of Defence met the ICRC in April 2004.

"It has been the practice of the ICRC to keep these reports confidential—not simply to maintain a positive working relationship between governments and the ICRC, but also to protect those mentioned in the reports. It is important that this confidentiality is respected. Roland Huguenin-Benjamin of the ICRC said at the weekend:

"We usually do this in direct confidential contact with the detaining power. We do not believe very much that there is a lot of interest for the prisoners themselves of having those kind of issues exposed in the public domain".

"The interim report in February dealt with ICRC visits to coalition facilities between March and November last year. It raised three specific concerns in respect of British forces treatment of prisoners and internees. Since these issues are already in the public domain it is appropriate for me to comment further.

"The first is in respect of the death in custody of Baha Mousa, also known as Baha Maliki, in September last year. A Royal Military Police investigation was launched at that time. The case has featured frequently in the media since then and was raised by the honourable Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr during an adjournment debate in January this year. It was also the subject of an Amnesty International letter writing campaign. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces wrote to Amnesty about the case on 11 November and again on 27 January. It follows that, by the time the ICRC referred to the case in its February report, a thorough investigation was well under way and the Government had made frequent public comment about it.

"The second concern raised by the ICRC related to the United Kingdom was in respect of the routine hooding of prisoners. This practice had already ceased in UK facilities from September last year, and this change has also been confirmed publicly.

"In the third case a detainee had claimed that his car was confiscated. We were not able to shed light on the case. The individual was briefed on our claims procedure and provided with a claim form, but nothing more has been heard from him.

"The interim ICRC report was not seen by Ministers until very recently. This was because it was an interim report to Ambassador Bremer, passed to the UK in strict confidence. A follow-on UK-specific report was, in any event, anticipated; and, in these cases relevant to UK forces, the action necessary to address the ICRC's concerns had been taken some five months before the report was issued. In February, therefore, officials at permanent joint headquarters judged that there was no action that Ministers needed to take, at least until any further reports were received.

"Since the programme of ICRC visits last year, we have opened a new divisional temporary detention facility in southern Iraq. The ICRC visited the site before it opened, has visited twice since—in February and April—and is due to visit again next week. We remain committed to consultation with the ICRC and comply fully with its requests for access. The ICRC has yet to submit a formal report to the Government in respect of the two visits it has carried out, but has provided working reports to our forces in theatre. It is fair to say that the ICRC is generally satisfied with our approach and that it described conditions of internment as, 'fairly good'. We will continue to work closely with it to ensure prisoners' concerns are addressed.

"There have, in addition, been representations made by a number of other groups, including Amnesty International, making allegations about incidents, of some of which the Ministry of Defence was not previously aware. These incidents do not involve allegations about detainees. We will always take any such credible allegations seriously. Consequently, at the beginning of March, we began the process of a thorough trawl of the records of units produced in Iraq since the commencement of operations last year. This is a considerable task which we expect to last a few more weeks yet. But I can assure the House that if it reveals further examples of incidents that merit formal investigation, then those investigations will follow. And in turn, if British forces are found to have acted unlawfully, then the appropriate action will be taken. That has happened in every single case so far.

"Those thorough and detailed investigations have also been necessary in relation to the photographs published by the Daily Mirror some days ago. These photographs are central to accusations concerning the behaviour of British troops, in particular, the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.

"I can tell the House that as a result of those further investigations the Special Investigations Branch has informed me that there are strong indications that the vehicle in which the photographs were taken was not in Iraq during the relevant period. Additional lines of inquiry are being pursued to corroborate this fact.

"The SIB have interviewed at length the soldier described by the Daily Mirror as "Soldier C". We are grateful to "Soldier C" for coming forward. However, I can assure the House that the allegation at the centre of his evidence, which is once again the case of Baha Mousa, has already been investigated and the case is currently with the Army Legal Services for consideration. When interviewed by the Royal Military Police, "Soldier C" did not have any new evidence to add to what was already known as a result of our own investigations. Indeed, as I have already mentioned, these allegations were widely covered in other newspapers many months ago. I leave it to the House to judge why they have been recycled in this particular way.

"In conclusion, we are determined to see through the task in Iraq according to the normal behaviour set out in the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law. We will not hesitate to act where these high standards are not followed and we will investigate when allegations are brought to our attention. But we should not lose sight of the fact that thousands of our service personnel continue to serve their country with great distinction in Iraq and around the world. We are appalled at the allegations made against an unrepresentative small number, but that will not diminish our admiration for, or our respect and our pride in, those who continue to serve their country with such distinction".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Shadow Minister, International Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for bringing the House up to date on the current security situation and allegations of mistreatment. Given the current atmosphere of public disquiet over the continuing and apparently deepening involvement of British troops in Iraq, the Government had little alternative but to make a Statement to both Houses.

The Statement is right to say that the possible unauthorised actions of a very few must not be allowed to undermine the outstanding work of tens of thousands of British soldiers and civilians who have served with distinction, compassion and sensitivity in Iraq.

There are no circumstances under which the brutal humiliation of disarmed and helpless prisoners can be excused. The replaying of these images day after day has the potential to undermine the significant gains that have been made towards the goals of peace, stability and freedom in Iraq. But it is very important to separate fact from opinion and rumour. We are bound by the Geneva Convention and the protocols. Our interrogators are scrupulously trained in tactical questioning and interrogation. They do an excellent job, often under the most trying circumstances, of producing relevant and timely human intelligence. That "HumInt", which must by its very nature remain secret, contributes significantly to the operational effectiveness of our forces in Iraq.

The House will be aware that Britain ratified the additional 1977 protocols to the 1949 Geneva Convention six years ago, and that Article 75 of the first protocol significantly prohibits,

"outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment . . . and any form of indecent assault".

I understand that Amnesty International reported to the MoD on several occasions since May last year alleging that abuses by British soldiers were taking place in Iraq.

I have a number of questions for the Minister. When did Her Majesty's Government first see those reports? What steps did the Government then take, and what actions were taken by the chain of command to deal with them? Since the document has been published today in the Wall Street Journal, will the Government now officially publish the ICRC report in full on this side of the Atlantic? Can the Minister confirm that the ICRC brought its concerns to the attention of the coalition forces on several occasions, orally and in writing, throughout 2003? When were British commanders in MND South East first made aware of the alleged abuse of prisoners by British forces? Finally, given the seriousness of the cuts in the military training programme, is the Minister entirely satisfied that British troops deployed to Iraq, including members of the TA, were given a full and detailed training package in handling prisoners and in the obligations of the Geneva Conventions?

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Shadow Minister, Defence

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. In reference to the 33 cases of civilian deaths, injuries or ill treatment, the Statement says:

"These investigations were not begun in response to the ICRC, to Amnesty or as the result of media pressure".

That may be the case, and we support the ongoing processes of the Royal Military Police and its investigations in Iraq. However, why did the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross not cause alarm bells in government? Although the report was an interim one, and it was some months before the final report was to be viewed, its allegations are so serious that I find it difficult to believe that Ministers did not read it. Like many others, I downloaded it from the web today.

Although the word "confidentiality" is used far too often to describe information coming from Iraq, that confidentiality obviously could not include Ministers. It is therefore worrying that no Minister, as we are to believe, read the report or even had it brought to their attention until a few days ago. As I understand it, the report gives the impression that, although some of the abuses highlighted were stamped down in Iraq, it appears that the Red Cross believed that they were going on in a routine manner between May and September last year. That would cause considerable concern.

The British Army has an enviable reputation for its training and discipline. However, it is unfortunate that, although the Army is there to bring stability and peace to Iraq—it is not an army of occupation—the Government have not accepted that the European Convention on Human Rights should be applicable in Iraq. I find it strange that, when I raised that question last week, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said:

"It is our belief that, strictly speaking in law, it does not apply in Iraq. Whether it does or not may one day be tested".—[Hansard, 4/5/04; col. 1030.]

That is a rather unfortunate attitude to take as regards the convention and whether it applies to British soldiers.

I had planned to ask many of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, has already put; I shall not repeat them. Has there been a review of British methods of intelligence gathering and interviewing prisoners? It has been quoted in the press—I do not know whether it is true—that techniques have been shared between US forces and British forces. Considering the fundamental abuses that have taken place under US soldiers' administration of prisoners, have joint operations procedures been reviewed? Have the Government requested urgent talks with the Americans about the abuses carried out and about remedial or any other training to be given to American forces in the future?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their remarks and questions, which I shall do my best to answer. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Astor, that there cannot be any circumstances in which the behaviour alleged, if proved, is acceptable—no circumstances at all. I think that that is very much the view of all Members of this House, which is why the allegations are so serious and need to be sorted out.

I also agree with the noble Lord, if I may, that we must separate fact and rumour in such cases. We must understand that not every allegation is necessarily true. That does not mean to say that we do not have a duty to investigate each and every allegation, but as anyone who knows the criminal law in this country will be aware, not every allegation turns out to be true. It is a matter of common sense. I do not deny for a moment the seriousness of the Statement that I have made and the questions that have been asked about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked questions about Amnesty International. We have received from Amnesty, not so much reports, but a number of letters, starting in May 2003. As the Statement said, there was a letter-writing campaign about the death of Mr Mousa, which my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces replied to and made public. We have looked into and are investigating every inquiry that Amnesty has made.

As concerns the ICRC report, we are not hiding behind confidentiality as Ministers. We are asked to publish it because it has appeared on a website on the other side of the Atlantic, but I must remind the House, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, that the report belongs to the ICRC. It is the committee's report, and, unless it wants to publish it, we cannot do so. Those are the conditions of the good relationship between the ICRC and us. If the committee is prepared to give its permission to publish, we would be minded to do so. It is known that the report is now on a website, and noble Lords have quite properly taken advantage of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked—more rhetorically than in fact, I think—whether Ministers had seen the ICRC report, when they say that they had not. I assure him that Ministers did not see the ICRC report; that is, the interim report that was sent to us in February. The reason, as was set out in the Statement that I read out a few minutes ago, is that the three matters relating to alleged British wrongdoing had all been looked into—off our own bat and at our own instigation—five months before the latest matters. The three matters raised in that report had all been looked into and investigated. That is why the decision was taken at PJHQ not to send the report to Ministers. That is why Ministers did not see the report until very recently.

There was a query about whether we were satisfied that there was sufficient training. I shall make the position clear: the Armed Forces are aware of their obligations under international law. I repeat to the House what I said last Tuesday: they are given thorough, mandatory training that includes specific guidance on handling prisoners of war. All personnel must attend refresher training every year. Before going to Iraq, all personnel are briefed on the rules of engagement and procedures for dealing with prisoners of war or other detainees. Each combat unit is required to have eight senior non-commissioned officers trained in handling prisoners of war. All units responsible for the routine handling of detainees conduct further specialist training. So, I am satisfied that we train our Armed Forces sufficiently in that regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about intelligence gathering. The training in methods of questioning is of a high standard and is well within the terms of the Geneva Convention. The joint services intelligence organisation's training documentation states that the following techniques are expressly and explicitly forbidden: physical punishment of any sort; the use of stress privation; intentional sleep deprivation; withdrawal of food, water or medical help; degrading treatment, including sexual embarrassment or religious taunting; the use of what is called "white noise"—I understand that to be very loud noise—and torture methods such as thumbscrews. I repeat: all those are expressly and explicitly forbidden.

Photo of Baroness Boothroyd Baroness Boothroyd Crossbench

My Lords, my concern is the breakdown of the reasonable relationships that were building up between British service personnel and the Iraqi people. In view of the damage done by the horrendous photographs and videos that have been displayed continuously throughout the Muslim world, what steps are the British authorities taking to make it clear to the Iraqi people that no effort is being spared in investigating the allegations and that, if the allegations are well founded, those concerned will be dealt with through the rule of law?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: one of the effects of the allegations, whether or not they are true in every case—something that newspapers might want to consider—is that the relationship that has been established over the previous months between British troops and Iraqis, particularly those in the south of the country, is put in danger. Even more obviously put in danger, perhaps, are the lives of British troops.

We are making every effort to get across to the Iraqi people our disgust at any case of this kind that is proved and our view that such behaviour is completely unacceptable. The Prime Minister has spoken on the matter twice, I think, in the past two or three days. The very reason that we went into Iraq was to stop not this sort of treatment but any treatment of this kind taking place. We wanted to stop it for good. In answer to the noble Baroness's question, I say that those who are found to be responsible will be punished. We are using all the methods that we can to get that across to the Iraqi people, but the noble Baroness and the House will know that there are people in Iraq who will do their best to pervert the message that we are sending.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we are not dealing with a nicety? We are dealing with the criminal law, which is on trial. Does not the burden of proof in all cases fall on the prosecuting authorities, however grave the allegations? Will my noble friend also underline the fact that the proposed defendants are entitled by our law to be treated as innocent, until the jury finds them guilty? Is it not right that, as is customary, the burden of proof should fall on the prosecution? All I ask is that there should be a fair trial. Does my noble friend agree?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, my noble friend speaks with huge experience of such issues. He knows that I agree with him. It is essential that the interests of all parties in criminal matters are considered fairly and evenly. That includes the interests of potential defendants, which is why the system that we adopt in the Armed Forces is designed to make sure that independent bodies—the Army Legal Services and the Army Prosecution Authority, which are not part of the chain of command in the normal way—are obliged to examine the result of investigations to see whether it is appropriate for a charge to be made. If a charge is made, it is essential that a fair trial should follow.

Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative

My Lords, I refer the Minister to the earlier part of his Statement, which dealt with the security situation. Understandably, he dealt only with the part of Iraq that is under the direct control of British troops, but does he not agree that experience tells us that the security of that part of Iraq—Basra and the surrounding towns—depends crucially on decisions taken and words spoken elsewhere? I refer, for example, to Imam al-Sadr's remarks on Friday, which the Minister mentioned, but also to American decisions made in Baghdad. They affect our troops crucially. Is the Minister satisfied that we have sufficient influence, day by day, on those decisions?

It is now 10 May. On 30 June, there will be a transfer of power to a sovereign Iraqi government. In the Minister's particular sphere, is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that if the powers to be transferred are to be at all credible to other Iraqis and the region, they need to include Iraqi command of Iraqi security forces and some at least effective Iraqi day-by-day say in the major military decisions of the coalition?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I disagree with nothing that the noble Lord has said. Of course, what happens in the south is affected to an extent by what happens elsewhere in Iraq. In discussions with our coalition partners—in particular, the Americans—we are satisfied that they are doing their jobs elsewhere in Iraq, which, it must be remembered, is sometimes extremely difficult in certain parts of the remainder of Iraq.

Of course, 30 June is now less than two months away. From a recent, if very short, visit that I made to Iraq about two weeks ago, I know that our minds are set very much indeed on what will happen on 30 June and on the days afterwards. Of course, it is intended that security should be handed over to the Iraqis on that day. But the vast majority of them would say that they want and need a coalition presence in the following weeks and months to ensure that security is satisfactory.

There is a huge amount of effort being made by the Americans, who can speak for themselves, and us in order to ensure that the various parts of the Iraqi security forces are being trained and made up as best we can. It is a hard job, but we are very conscious that if 30 June is to mean anything it must involve some transfer of security influence to the Iraqis.

Photo of Lord Hooson Lord Hooson Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Red Cross report was potentially extremely embarrassing for this country? Who took the decision that the report should not be disclosed to Ministers? Who took the decision that it should not be disclosed to the Prime Minister? Potentially, the report was a time bomb. It is not a question of a prosecution being brought or anything like that. It is exactly the same as a newspaper potentially reporting a possible crime, but not the prosecution of the crime. Therefore, there was a time bomb under the Government. Yet, there was a procedure whereby this report and its implications do not seem to have been disclosed to the Cabinet.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I do not have any idea. I shall repeat myself. The three issues to which that interim report referred in relation to British troops had all been investigated—not because we were asked to investigate them but because we chose to do so many months before the interim report arrived—and were being investigated at the time the report reached the Government. So all three issues have been dealt with, each of which was set out clearly in the Statement that I have just read.

Photo of The Bishop of Worcester The Bishop of Worcester Bishop

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that no one in this House or in the country would expect the Government to do other than they are doing in taking these allegations extremely seriously. We would expect no less. There is a high level of trust that the Government are doing no less than they should. That support will come from people irrespective of what they thought about the original decision to engage in the coalition's campaign.

However, those who opposed the campaign are bound to feel that allegations and divisions of this kind in our country and the evidence—if such there be—of particular, however small, numbers of soldiers crossing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are a consequence that too often follows from contentious and divisive decisions. Were the Government aware that that might happen and that this type of military activity had a particular propensity to cause that kind of thing to occur? If the Government were aware, do they understand that there are many people in the country who will feel that what so far as we can tell currently has happened—I absolutely agree with the need for a fair trial in individual cases—is some indication of the fragile support that there was for this event?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, with the greatest respect to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, I cannot agree with him on this occasion. Of course, there were divisions in this country about whether we should have gone to war with Iraq, which were expressed as legitimately as they can be in a democracy. But I do not think that that has any connection with the allegations that are currently circling around and, if those allegations are true, any of the acts that took place.

We must be realistic about this. I doubt that there has been a war, a conflict or a post-conflict situation in history, whether it involved disagreement or agreement about whether it was sensible to enter into, in which there has not been some examples of bad behaviour by armed forces. There always has been. As I think that I have made absolutely clear to the House today, none of it is acceptable. But I really do not see that that is in any way connected to the fact that this particular conflict divided the British people.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, my noble friend referred to "working reports" by the ICRC being provided to forces in theatre. I presume that those working reports cover actions by all coalition forces. The in-theatre reports are the ones that are of interest to me. Do or have Ministers or civil servants in the MoD or the Foreign Office have access to those working reports that were provided to forces in theatre?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I do not know the answer to that question, but I suspect that it is, "yes". I shall find out the answer, let the noble Lord know and, of course, put the answer in the Library of the House.

Photo of Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn Conservative

My Lords, many of us are very concerned that the spirit of Guantanamo Bay should not descend on operations in Iraq. As the noble Lord will understand, I am referring to the wilful disregard of the Geneva conventions that are said not to apply there. Of course, they apply in Iraq, but I should like to ask the Minister three questions.

First, I should like to have the Minister's assurance that, in future, reports from the Red Cross—the ICRC—or Amnesty International will reach the tables of Ministers at once.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn Conservative

My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Lord does not know who made the decision that they should not. At a later stage, will the Minister inform the House at what level that decision was made?

Secondly, with reference to the Geneva conventions, can the noble Lord confirm reports that, initially, prisoners and detainees in UK care were being interrogated hooded and whether that is in line with the Geneva convention? I believe that practice has now ceased.

Thirdly, in the very good report by the American general on the situation in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, a note was made of very curious incidents of so-called "ghost detainees". Detainees were being brought into Iraq for interrogation, perhaps from Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan, in circumstances the general himself viewed as counter to the Geneva Convention. Does the noble Lord know anything about that matter? Can he give a categorical assurance about "ghost detainees"—people detained outside Iraq and brought into the country for interrogation—that this has not happened under British supervision and jurisdiction?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions and I shall do my best to answer them. The answer to his first question is that I do not think that this situation will arise again. I suspect that, in the future, any report will be put in front of Ministers pretty quickly. That is my guess.

Secondly, the noble Lord should not be surprised that I am not prepared to name the person who decided that Ministers should not see the report. In this House we are not in the habit of talking about individuals in that sense. His question about the level of the decision is a much better inquiry and I shall do my best, if I am able, to find out and inform the House.

I turn to the matter of hooded detainees. That practice ended in the autumn of last year. I have read the same stories in the newspapers about "ghost detainees" as has the noble Lord. So far as I am aware, there is no question of that happening under British supervision at all.

Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Shadow Minister (Culture, Media & Sport (Lords)), Culture, Media & Sport

My Lords, all Members of your Lordships' House will be extremely disturbed by the allegations and rumours that have been spreading about British troops in Iraq. Will he take it from me that among those most devastated by this are those who at some stage have themselves had military training, who have served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, or whose fathers, sons or other close relatives have done so? Indeed, that would include many in your Lordships' House. They will be aware of the traditional saw within the British armed services that the fish rots from the head.

If there is any truth in these allegations, then sooner or later we shall have to get to grips with the old standards which now seemed to have slipped. A famous commander once observed that there is no such thing as the British Army, rather it is a collection of regimental families. In the regiment in which both I and my son served, it would be unthinkable that such things could take place. If soldiers have been responsible for this kind of behaviour, then their officers are ultimately to blame. We have heard no mention of officers in any of our exchanges in this House. We have heard only generalities about a drop in standards overall, including among the Americans. I do not care what the Americans do—or at least I do care about it, but we have no influence over that.

If these allegations are true, can the Minister say whether Members of this House will have a chance to discuss what has happened to that great family, the British regiment, and the ways in which the honour of the regiment is maintained?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I very much take the point made by the noble Viscount about the upset that this will cause to those with a background in the Armed Forces. I also believe that it will cause huge upset to those many thousands in the Armed Forces who fought in the war in Iraq and are now helping to make that country once again a decent place. They will be as upset as anyone at the suggestion that there has been mistreatment of the kind described.

I am sure that this House will have an opportunity to discuss the matters raised by the noble Viscount. Let us see first what is brought out by these investigations. If at that point we want to discuss the matter, noble Lords are quite clever enough to ensure that it is put on the Order Paper.

Noble Lords: