Jordan and Libya

– in the House of Lords at 2:44 pm on 15 November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench 2:44, 15 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they are taking to ensure independent and rigorous monitoring of the treatment of those foreign nationals who have been deported to Jordan and Libya.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the Prime Minister announced on 5 August that the United Kingdom was seeking to negotiate memoranda of understanding with a number of countries in the Middle East and north Africa, containing assurances against torture or ill treatment of those being returned. We have subsequently signed two such MOUs with Jordan and Libya; the MOUs and the assurances contained within them are subject to a monitoring regime conducted by an independent and capable body. The texts are in the Library. A body has agreed to carry out that important role in Jordan; we have agreed in principle with a body in Libya to do the same, and we are now tying down the details with that body.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. I have to assume that the very fact that memoranda of agreement have been negotiated with Jordan and Libya and other countries must mean that the Government have genuine concerns about the possibility of torture of those returnees because torture continues in both those countries. But those countries have signed the international torture convention among many other treaties that carry an absolute prohibition on torture, regardless of the circumstances. Therefore, why does the Minister believe that the bilateral memoranda of agreement will have greater force than the international treaties that carry the force of law?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the necessity for the memoranda is to ensure that standards that we would regard as acceptable are sustained. The methodology described in them is sufficiently robust and contains all the essential elements that we need. The monitors will be chosen on a basis such that we are confident of their efficacy. When individuals fearing any return go to the British courts, I have no doubt that the courts will protect them from any threat of the death penalty or torture. Those are real-world commitments, made on a bilateral arrangement, and commitments that we are confident will be sustained because they have been made in serious negotiation in good faith.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs

My Lords, does the Minister recall that when the International Committee of the Red Cross—the ICRC—was asked to monitor the agreement that we entered into with Egypt in 1999, it declined on the basis that it would have wished to monitor all prisons in Egypt, not just a few individuals that we might send back there? Has the ICRC agreed to monitor the returns in Jordan and Libya and, if not, is the Minister satisfied that the monitoring bodies that have been chosen are competent to carry out those tasks and that we will be in full compliance with Article 3 if challenged in court?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I am confident that we will be in full compliance with Article 3. The proposition is specific in the memoranda; the intention is that these are specific agreements about specific people on a case-by-case basis, who are returned to countries because they pose a terrorism threat to the people of the United Kingdom. We are not asking people to monitor every prison; we are ensuring that the people covered by the specific arrangements meet the full criteria in the memoranda.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, there is an absolute duty to ensure that people are returned to a place where they are not subject to torture, but does my noble friend agree that it is no greater a duty than the one on the Government to protect the people of this country from both the threat and the actuality of terrorism?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I wholly agree with that point. We have an obligation to protect the people of the United Kingdom from threats of terrorism, and we shall do it by ensuring that we sustain a complete respect for human rights and the ECHR obligations, and reinforce the methods of monitoring that ensure that we are doing it properly. But first and foremost—it is absolutely true—we have an obligation to our fellow citizens to ensure that terrorists do not blow them up.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, Defence, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Development, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the MOUs signed with Jordan and Libya earlier this year. How many foreign nationals have been deported to each of those countries since those agreements were signed?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I shall make absolutely certain that this answer is accurate, but I believe that the answer is none.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, who are the monitors and what guarantees will there be that they will have continuing access to these people?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the NGO in Jordan is the Adaleh Centre. Discussions are continuing in Libya to identify the body that we believe will do this job as I have described it fully and competently. When a decision on that monitoring body is made, I shall ensure it is in the Library.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, to what extent are these agreements consistent with, or relevant to, our policy—as I understand it—not to extradite people to countries that still practise the death penalty?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the memoranda make it clear, consistently with Article 3, that people will not be sent back if they face the threat of the death penalty or the threat of torture. I add that the courts will be in a position to judge whether the threats are indeed real before anyone is sent back, should anyone apply to the courts. That is the fullest safeguard anyone in the United Kingdom ever has.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I take this opportunity—perhaps the first we have had—to express the condolences of our House to the people of Jordan following the terrible atrocities that occurred there a few days ago. Does the Minister agree that the popular outpouring of protest on the streets of Jordan against the works of al-Qaeda demonstrates that many Muslim people worldwide see the nature of terror as we do, and stand with us against it?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I fully associate the Government and, I am sure, all parts of the House with the sentiments the noble Lord has just expressed. I can never understand such barbaric deeds, and cannot get my head around the idea that people could go into an event so full of life and celebration as a wedding and butcher others. I am sure it is as repugnant to Muslims as it is to everyone else who has a civilised bone in their body.