My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, in the other place to an Urgent Question from my right honourable friend Mr Kenneth Clarke. The Statement is as follows:
“First, I thank the right honourable gentleman for his Question and for his leadership of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. The Government welcome the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s reports and are grateful for the committee’s vital work and examination of allegations of UK involvement in mistreatment and rendition. I declare that between 2014 and 2016 I was on the Intelligence and Security Committee when it was conducting this lengthy investigation. It is right that these reports, and as much information as possible from this period, are put in the public domain. We need to ensure that we learn from past mistakes so that they are never repeated. The Prime Minister laid a Written Ministerial Statement in Parliament last Thursday setting out the Government’s initial response to the reports.
It is important to begin by noting the context in which the Government, including the security and intelligence agencies and the Armed Forces, were working in the immediate aftermath of
The Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues report recognises that improvements have been made to operational processes since those post-9/11 years. In particular, the consolidated guidance published in 2010 provides clear direction for UK personnel and governs their interaction with detainees held by others and the handling of any intelligence received from them. This is coupled with world-leading independent oversight, including by the committee and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Sir Adrian Fulford.
Formal oversight responsibility for the consolidated guidance rests with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. Last week, Sir Adrian Fulford welcomed the Prime Minister’s invitation to him to make proposals on how the consolidated guidance could be improved further, taking account of the committee’s views and those of civil society. The Prime Minister has stated that the Government will give further consideration to the committee’s conclusions and recommendations. The Government will also give careful consideration to the calls for another judge-led inquiry and will update the House within 60 days from publication of the reports.
I would like once again to reassure the House that the Government do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture for any purpose. We can and should be proud of the work done by our intelligence and service personnel, often in the most difficult circumstances. It is right that they should be held to the highest possible standards. I am confident that the changes we have made in recent years will allow us both to protect our national security and maintain our global reputation as a champion for human rights around the world”.
My Lords, it is a customary courtesy on occasions such as this for me to thank the Minister for repeating an Answer but this evening those thanks are very much heartfelt, as are my thanks to Kenneth Clarke, the Father of the House of Commons, for putting this Question. My thanks to the Minister are for two words in that Answer: “60 days”. They are for the promise to come back within 60 days with an answer on whether we are finally to have a judicial inquiry into what is perhaps the darkest part of the so-called war on terror, as far as this country is concerned. I am very grateful for that.
However, when the Minister returns with that answer and, I hope, to deliver the judicial inquiry that the agencies, victims of kidnap and torture and the wider public need to close this chapter and move forward, will that inquiry be truly independent and autonomous, bearing in mind that the first of the two ISC reports highlighted the fact that Mr Grieve and his colleagues were not able to summon witnesses, including those involved in the agencies at the pertinent time? Will that inquiry also look into the operation of the Justice and Security Act—the so-called secret courts Act—which I suspect Mr Clarke and others on all sides of both Houses might have thought twice about in 2013, if they had known what was to be revealed subsequently? Finally, can the Minister say whether the consolidated guidance will be reconsidered in the light of full public consultation, since the contemporaneous report—the second of the ISC reports—said that Ministers still lack a common understanding of what they may and may not authorise? Rendition, the transfer part of this terrible practice, is still not dealt with in current guidance.
I thank the noble Baroness for her response to the reply to the Urgent Question. She welcomed the agreement that the Government will respond within 60 days and update the House on what they consider the position to be. I obviously do not want to pre-empt that by anticipating what may or may not be within the Government’s response. On the particular matter of an inquiry the Government, as I said, will give careful consideration to calls for another judge-led inquiry. One would imagine that implicit in that phrasing is a degree of independence, if it is indeed the Government’s decision to go down that road.
On the matter of the consolidated guidance, I think there is universal recognition that its introduction in 2010 saw a major step forward in how the Government—and the state, for that matter—deal with these sensitive and delicate issues. It was interesting that the committee acknowledged that very few countries in the world have attempted to set out their approach to these matters and let themselves be held accountable in the manner in which the United Kingdom does. That was a welcome acknowledgement by the committee of the strength of CSG. Clearly, however, the invitation to Sir Adrian Fulford to make proposals to the Government about how the consolidated guidance could be improved, taking account of the committee’s views and, importantly, those of civil society, will obviously inform the Government’s thinking in relation to that guidance.
My Lords, I declare a rather improbable interest, which is that in May 2010 I was party to a conversation with the then Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, who invited me to embark upon the inquiry that has now been fulfilled and produced these two documents. In opposition before that stage, the Conservative Party had promised a judge-led inquiry and when I pointed out that I was not a judge, it seemed to be the end of the matter and the circumstances were referred to Sir Peter Gibson.
The point which jumps out of this is why the Prime Minister refused to allow the committee to have access to all the relevant witnesses. Every member of the committee is a privy counsellor and all have signed the Official Secrets Act. The committee has a long and distinguished tradition of not leaking. No reason of any kind has been put forward for the committee, which after all was dealing with the matters in the round, not to have access to those who probably know best whether these allegations are well founded. The consequence is—to some extent, I am picking up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—that unless the Government hold a judge-led inquiry, there will be a continued belief that they have something to hide. If these matters are to be seen in plain sight, the best way of doing that would have been to allow the committee access to all the evidence it thought was necessary.
I thank the noble Lord. He reminds me that I omitted to address part of the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. In relation to the committee not being permitted to call all the witnesses it wanted, my understanding is that that was not possible for a combination of reasons of policy and legal reasons. In some cases, this was because the officials in question were junior at the time of these events and, apparently, it is not normal practice for a parliamentary committee to take evidence from junior officials. As to the suggestion that the Government are trying to cover something up, let me make two observations. As the noble Lord acknowledged, it was the Government who invited the committee to go down the road of undertaking this inquiry; it is something that the Government wanted the committee to do. This might come up later on but there was also some question about whether there was any redaction of the report. My understanding is that at the request of the US, because of national security concerns, the committee agreed to redact one word in 300 pages of the report. It seems to me that this has been a thorough and very open process.
My Lords, in declaring my interest as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee between 2001 and 2005, may I press the Minister further on this? Will she accept that if the committee does not have power to see whatever material it requires to see, and to interview whatever witnesses it demands to see, then its credibility with Parliament and the public—and, much more importantly, the credibility of the agencies with Parliament and the public—cannot be maintained? This is an absolutely key constitutional issue and a key issue of national security. Will the Government accept that for the Prime Minister to deny the ISC, which represents Parliament, access to key witnesses that it requires to see is to make a travesty of these proceedings?
I thank the noble Lord for his contribution and pay tribute to his contribution in the other place on the committee. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, the Government adduced reasons as to why they thought it would not be acceptable to have the witnesses called that the committee sought to call. I understand that it was not possible for a combination of policy and legal reasons.
I do not need to tell this House, and surely do not need to tell the noble Lord, that in these very sensitive areas of national security there will always have to be a balance struck between what is thought prudent in the interests of the security of the country, preserving confidence over certain matters and the safety of personnel. I suppose that is never going to be an easy balance to strike, but the Government felt there were good reasons for declining to accede to the committee’s request and I am unable to add to that.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her kind words about the consolidated guidance which I was very involved in producing. We thought at the time that we had done extremely well when one looked around the world at the guidance that was available to anyone else, but without a doubt it needs to be looked at again. If we go down the route of a judicial inquiry—I was swayed by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, about that—we must ensure that the people in the agencies, who I have worked with for some 50 years, are looked after in the sense that we realise that they are trying to do the best for our nation. When we were writing the consolidated guidance, they said that they had been put in very difficult circumstances and had tried their best but had not received the proper guidance they should have received from our nation. We need to make sure that that is reflected in anything that happens.
Yes, I am sure the noble Lord’s observations will be heard. I entirely endorse his comments with regard to our security and intelligence services. The professionalism and commitment which is demonstrated by the members of those services is outstanding and exemplary and this country owes them a huge debt of gratitude. Our safety and our future stability depend upon them.
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord but we usually have 10 minutes for a Urgent Question repeated from the other place. Those 10 minutes are up, and we have other business to transact.
Unlike a Statement, it is 10 minutes in toto.