My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. However welcome it is that the Government have accepted the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s recommendations to replace the current consolidated guidance with new principles, the refusal to re-establish a judge-led inquiry, which was promised nearly a decade ago, is deplorable. The Intelligence and Security Committee, under the chairmanship of Dominic Grieve, did its best in the reports it produced a year ago, but the Prime Minister denied it access to relevant witnesses such that it was unable to conduct an authoritative inquiry and produce a report, so it had to stop.
However, the ISC estimated, on the basis of the research it was able to do, that UK personnel had been involved in 2,000 to 3,000 detainee interviews in the period 2002 to 2004. It found 166 incidents recorded, and there were huge gaps in the records, where UK personnel either witnessed detainee mistreatment, were told of it by the detainees themselves or were told of it by foreign agencies. In addition, the ISC found 198 recorded cases where UK personnel received intelligence that they knew or should have suspected was tainted as it resulted from detainee mistreatment. That makes getting on for 400 cases, some of which would surely have involved torture or illegal behaviour by British officials. Since the ISC found a lot of gaps in those records, it could be many more. Then there is complicity in illegal rendition, secret imprisonment and disappearance. It is not acceptable to try to bury this sorry, disgraceful history. There needs to be transparency and accountability in establishing the truth, not a continued cover-up. Anything less may well breach the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Like this Statement, today’s Written Statement from the Prime Minister on the new principles asserts that the Government’s policy is not to,
“participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.
It would be extraordinary if it were otherwise. However, there still seems to be wriggle room for Ministers to authorise co-operation with torture and inhuman treatment, in breach of international law. Can the Minister assure us that the Ministry of Defence document revealed in May—it made clear that Ministers permitted themselves to share intelligence with allies even if there was a serious risk of torture—is now redundant and has been withdrawn, and that the principles would ban both Ministers and personnel from taking such a real risk?
The suspicion must exist that this brushing under the carpet is to please President Trump at a time when the likely next Prime Minister is keen to be chummy with him. That would be morally shameful. The ISC reported MI6 as saying that, post 9/11, there was,
“an unconditional reflex to support the United States, which … came from the political centre”— namely, No. 10. The ISC concluded that,
“the UK saw itself as the poor relation to the US, and was distinctly uncomfortable at the prospect of complaining to its host”.
I am afraid that, once again, this sounds all too familiar.
In 2010, the coalition Government resolved to establish the truth through the powers of a judge. It is shocking that this Conservative-only Government have abandoned that attempt.