Binyam Mohamed — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:15 am on 12th March 2009.

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Tabled By Lord Thomas of Gresford

To ask Her Majesty's Government what were the terms of reference of the investigation instituted by the Home Secretary on 28 October 2008 into the alleged torture of Binyam Mohamed; and what subsequent action the Attorney-General has taken.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for the Home Office 11:21 am, 12th March 2009

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Thomas, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, The Attorney-General

My Lords, the Home Secretary referred the question of possible criminal wrongdoing to me on 23 October last year in my capacity as an independent Minister of Justice. The Home Secretary did not seek to set terms of reference but provided me with relevant material from the court proceedings. After undertaking a preliminary review of the material referred to me, I took the view that I should seek the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions. All the material provided to me was then made available to him. At this stage, no decision has been reached and it would be premature to speculate as to the outcome. Nor is it possible to give a precise timescale. I intend to report to Parliament on my assessment. We will continue to do everything that we properly can to bring this matter to an expeditious conclusion.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for the Home Office

My Lords, whatever decisions are made about individual criminal prosecutions of particular offences, is not the noble and learned Baroness aware of the widespread concern about the allegations of complicity and knowledge of these events by the Government as a whole? Does she therefore agree that now is the time for the Government to institute a general inquiry into those matters as well as the individual proceedings against individuals?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, The Attorney-General

My Lords, I think that the most appropriate course has been taken. Noble Lords will know that this matter came before the Divisional Court, which had an opportunity to consider what steps should be taken. Before its decision, an indication was given to it by counsel that the Government had taken the decision to refer the matters to me. The court took the view that, because of my constitutional role as an independent Minister of Justice in these circumstances, the most appropriate thing was that the Government should do that which they did. The court derived great comfort from that, as is clear from the judgment. I think that the right thing has been done and I intend to discharge my duty without fear or favour.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Shadow Security Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, may I press the Minister a little further on the scope of her inquiries into the matters arising from the case of Mr Binyam Mohamed? Is she considering cases that go beyond Mr Binyam Mohamed? If she has not had terms of reference set by any other member of the Government, will she tell us what terms she has set herself and whether she is willing to publish them?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, The Attorney-General

My Lords, as I have indicated, no terms of reference have been given to me and, if I may respectfully say so, that is proper. When an Attorney-General, whatever their political complexion, turns over these issues, they do so absolutely independently. It will be my duty to look at these issues and to consider whether it is right to invite the police to investigate this matter. That is what I will do.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, with respect to the Attorney-General, whose independence I do not question, may I ask her to consider one aspect of the time that has been taken to reach a conclusion about the allegations made? Ministers both in this House and in another place have repeatedly given assurances about torture and rendition that appear to be in conflict with the evidence that has now emerged from the United States and the evidence that has emerged from the High Court's recent consideration of the case of Binyam Mohamed. Will the Attorney-General therefore consider the damage that is being done to this country's reputation and to Parliament as a consequence of what appears to be a sheer conflict of evidence coming from the United States and this country?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, The Attorney-General

My Lords, of course I understand the anxieties that have arisen as a result of this matter, which is delicate, sensitive and needs to be thoroughly investigated. The papers that have been sent to me to be reviewed are comprehensive; they are the papers that went before the court. I have set out the issues in the letter that I wrote to Mr Dismore, who is the chair of the committee in the other place. I appreciate the facts, which is why I intend to ensure that the most careful scrutiny and attention are given to this matter. I do not demur at all from all those who say that this is an extremely important issue.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, will not the Intelligence and Security Committee deal with these matters anyhow?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, The Attorney-General

My Lords, the Intelligence and Security Committee will of course deal with the matters referred to it. I shall deal with the matters that have been entrusted to me.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, as the constitutional obligation and entitlement of an Attorney-General are to report to Parliament, is not the suggestion from the other opposition Benches that there should be some form of general consultation a derogation from that constitutional entitlement?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, The Attorney-General

My Lords, I believe that the proper course has been taken by the Government. I believe that the proper course, once I have concluded my inquiry into this matter, is that I should report to Parliament, which is what I will do.

Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop

My Lords, can the Minister say what Mr Mohamed's status in the United Kingdom was before he travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and what travel documents he was using when he went there?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, The Attorney-General

My Lords, that is wide of the Question. The right reverend Prelate will know that Mr Binyam Mohamed was not a national of this country but was resident here for a period previously. It was on that basis that we made quite strenuous representations on his behalf to the United States.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, is it not wrong that that the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have refused to appear before the Human Rights Committee? Can this not be reconsidered?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, The Attorney-General

My Lords, both the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have done that which is proper.

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...apart from refusing to appear before the Human Rights Committee.

Submitted by mick angel