HC Deb 16 June 1988 vol 135 cc619-33

'(1) A public official or person acting in an official capacity, whatever his nationality, commits the offence of torture if in the United Kingdom or elsewhere he intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering on another in the performance or purported performance of his official duties.

(2) A person not falling within subsection (1) above commits the offence of torture, whatever his nationality, if—

  1. (a) in the United Kingdom or elsewhere he intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering on another at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence—
    1. (i) of a public official; or
    2. (ii) of a person acting in an official capacity; and
  2. (b) the official or other person is performing or purporting to perform his official duties when he instigates the commission of the offence or consents to or acquiesces in it.

(3) It is immaterial whether the pain or suffering is physical or mental and whether it is caused by an act or an omission.

(4) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section in respect of any conduct of his to prove that he had lawful authority, justification or excuse for that conduct.

(5) For the purposes of this section "lawful authority, justification or excuse" means—

  1. (a) in relation to pain or suffering inflicted in the United Kingdom, lawful authority, justification or excuse under the law of the part of the United Kingdom where it was inflicted;
  2. (b) in relation to pain or suffering inflicted outside the United Kingdom-—
    1. (i) if it was inflicted by a United Kingdom official acting under the law of the United Kingdom or by a person acting in an official capacity under that law, lawful authority, justification or excuse under that law;
    2. (ii) if it was inflicted by a United Kingdom official acting under the law of any part of the United Kingdom or by a person acting in an official capacity under such law, lawful authority, justification or excuse under the law of the part of the United Kingdom under whose law he was acting; and
    3. (iii) in any other case, lawful authority, justification or excuse under the law of the place where it was inflicted.

(6) A person who commits the offence of torture shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.'. —[Mr. John Patten.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.30 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

With this it will he convenient to take Government new clauses 73 to 76 and Government amendments Nos. 12 to 19.

Mr. Patten

The new clauses and amendments, which I believe are welcome to the Opposition, create a new offence of torture. They provide that a public official or someone acting in an official capacity—or acting with the consent or acquiescence of an official or such person—commits an offence of torture if he intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering in the performance or purported performance of his official duties. "Pain or suffering" for the purposes of the new clauses and amendments includes both physical and mental pain or suffering.

The offence is committed whether the pain or suffering is inflicted in or outside the United Kingdom. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment. Proceedings can be taken with the consent of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. That of course is not necessary in Scotland, where procurators fiscal undertake prosecutions on behalf of the Lord Advocate. Alternatively, the person can be extradited to be tried or, if already convicted, punished abroad.

The new clauses and amendments will enable the Government to ratify the United Nations convention on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1984. The Government have been looking for some time for an opportunity to implement the convention. We did not originally intend to do it in this Bill, but the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer)—on whose head compliments have been raining this afternoon—spotted an opportunity in it, and suggested a series of amendments giving effect to the convention. He spoke to them in Committee, and they were welcomed then. We were delighted to find that we could move forward on a sound and firm basis of all-party support. The new clauses and amendments give effect to the commitment that I gave the Committee to consider the matter further, and to table proposals on Report.

I must make it clear to Opposition Members that neither the convention nor the new clauses and amendments will operate retrospectively. They will apply only to offences committed two months after Royal Assent. The purpose of our accession to the convention is not to instigate a sort of retrospective witch-hunt against those alleged to have committed torture in the past, and the new clauses and amendments would not make such a witch-hunt possible.

I remind the House that, as many are aware, 1988 is the 40th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, and it is fitting that we should try to mark that anniversary by ratifying the UN convention on torture. If the House accepts the new clause and the Bill completes its progress as we expect it to, we should be able to ratify the convention before the end of 1988.

Mr. Archer

The Minister and I will find ourselves in disfavour with our respective Whips Offices if we exchange too many compliments this evening, but we are grateful to him for responding so generously to the suggestions that we made in Committee and fulfilling the promise that he made to us then. In fact, I rather suspect that in Committee he was fulfilling a promise that he had already made to the press. It was, I am sure, no part of his intention that the reports which appeared in the press about the Government's intentions made no reference to the fact that that was in response to an invitation from the Opposition. But perhaps our reward will be in the hereafter. I must not be ungenerous or ungracious, because the Minister has been the reverse of that.

Mr. John Patten

If indeed such a thing has happened, I hope that I have made it right tonight through the compliments that I have paid the right hon. and learned Gentleman in bumpers before a crowded Press Gallery.

Mr. Archer

I at once acknowledge the handsome way in which the Minister has behaved, and his great kindness to me personally.

This, as the House will know, is something of which I have dreamt for many years. In the early 1970s, when I was chairman of the British section of Amnesty International, Amnesty was appalled by the number of cases that we encountered of the most horrifying torture. It was performed not in a state of excitement by someone carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, not by some minor official ignoring instructions, but as an instrument of Government policy, and it was taking place in an alarming number of countries.

Of course, it was not usually called torture; the more squeamish countries gave it a different name. In Northern Ireland it was referred to as "interrogation procedures". The House will recall the Parker report and the minority report of Lord Gardiner, which was so compelling that it produced an immediate change in Government policy. There are, however, degrees in these matters. The context in which the events in Northern Ireland took place has unhappily been recalled by the events of yesterday and our discussions today. Certainly those "interrogation procedures" were not of the same order as some of the practices that came to light in certain countries.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that since the Bennett report, and the implementation of the reforms that Bennett suggested, the interrogation procedures conducted in Northern Ireland today are a model to most of the police forces in the world and can in no way be likened to torture?

Mr. Archer

This is the last occasion on which I would wish to appear ungracious or fail to acknowledge the magnificent work which the RUC normally carries out, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not tempt me too far. There is still cause for anxiety in some cases, and if he and I cannot agree on that, this may not be the time to resolve our disagreements. In general, I agree with what he has said.

Amnesty International decided that an essential part of achieving its purpose was to conduct a campaign for an express declaration by the international community that torture was in no circumstances an acceptable instrument of policy, however desirable or undesirable that policy might be. Amnesty set out to persuade the member states of the United Nations to draft and adopt an international convention which would make a clear declaration and which, even if it did not always have effective teeth, would at least try to ensure that torture was more difficult to conceal. That led to the United Nations convention on torture.

As the Minister has told us, the United Kingdom has not yet ratified the convention. I accept that that is partly because the United Kingdom does not ratify conventions lightly. It does not do so until our domestic law is in a position for us to comply, and it does not assume that the House will automatically pass that law. There is always that element of delay, whichever party is in government. That has the unfortunate effect that, unless there is a sense of urgency in all the Government Departments involved, the United Kingdom appears to be dragging its feet.

I do not believe that ratification will make much difference to the practice in this country, for some of the reasons that the Minister has given. I hope that we shall never again see practices here which are relevant to the convention, but it may help at least to reinforce the solidarity of the international community.

I do not wish to appear nit-picking this afternoon. The one matter on which I am a little hesitant about the Government's draftsmanship is the reference to

lawful authority, justification or excuse for conduct that would otherwise amount to torture. There is lawful justification or authority if somebody is acting in accordance with the law of this country or the law of the country where it is taking place. By definition, we are talking about intentionally inflicting severe pain or suffering on another person. I cannot think offhand of any part of the law of the United Kingdom that would make such conduct lawful. If there were, I would be the first to move that we repeal it. I am not sure why that has been included. I hope that in his reply the Minister will say a little about it.

But I think that the new clause will greatly reinforce the unanimity of the international community. I hope that the fact that the United Kingdom is taking this step will lead to a great deal of pleasure and relief from anxiety both in this country and in all countries where torture is still a live issue and where the victims, at least, will welcome the support of the caring world.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I welcome the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister as well as the new clause. I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who has waged a campaign on this issue for many years. He must be greatly gratified that he has won his point and that the Government have introduced the new clause. I support it, but I hope that it will not be interpreted outside the House as having been placed on the statute book because it is needed in this country. It is not.

There has been no evidence of torture in Britain. It is true that from time to time police officers and members of the security forces may, through an excess of enthusiasm, have committed actions that can be complained about. However, an excess of enthusiasm can be checked and is checked by the proper application of the disciplinary code and of the criminal law. All police officers are responsible for their deeds to the criminal law and to their disciplinary code.

There is no evidence of any policy having been conducted by any Government at any time that would have permitted torture in this country. It ought to be made clear that the House will assent to the inclusion of my hon. Friend's new clause in the Bill because we accept that there should be consistency of practice internationally and that many other countries have introduced measures of this kind. I support the new clause because it enables the United Kingdom to stand with other nations. I do not in any way support it because I believe that Britain has a problem that needs to be dealt with by legislation.

There are hon. Members, perhaps a majority, including the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West, who feel that there is a case for a Bill of Rights.

Mr. Archer


Sir Eldon Griffiths

Perhaps I do the right hon. and learned Gentleman an injustice?

Mr. Archer

Simply for the record, may I say that I am not included among that number.

6.45 pm
Sir Eldon Griffiths

I am delighted to hear it, because I am one of those who stand with the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone, in believing that a nation that needs to write a Bill of Rights into its statute law is in peril of losing its civil rights. To that extent, I slightly regret the fact that we need to state that we are opposed to torture. Had I not risen to my feet, the new clause might have suggested that we were dealing with a problem that exists in Britain. It does not exist in Britain. I welcome the new clause and support it because it allows us to take our place among the international community of nations which condemn torture whenever they can.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

On behalf of the official Opposition, I welcome the new clause. It is a tidied-up version of the new clause that was tabled in Committee by the Opposition, and we are pleased to see it on the Amendment Paper in its correct form. Therefore, it is acceptable to the Opposition.

I associate myself with the congratulations that have been offered to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). He has done a great deal of work over many years, on behalf of Amnesty International, and has ensured that the problem was constantly placed before the House. If hon. Members did not do such work, measures of this kind would not reach the statute book. My right hon. and learned Friend has made a positive contribution to our statute law.

My right hon. and learned Friend's remarks about the Minister were slightly generous. The Minister was simply responding to suggestions that were made in Committee by the Opposition, particularly by my right hon. and learned Friend. As he pointed out, we read, as usual, the Minister's press release before we received his official response. Nevertheless, we have made progress.

I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend discussed this matter without giving lurid details about various types of torture in many parts of the world. Had it been many other hon. Members, we might have had a debate that concentrated on colourful and horrific details. We should be grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for showing that hard work and hard persuasion in a very good cause can lead us forward. We should pay tribute to him and recognise the work that he has done.

The Government are making only a small degree of progress, but it is right that the Opposition should say where they stand. The new clause reinforces our solidarity with other countries and the general intention. It is a step forward and we are grateful to the Minister for introducing it, as he promised in Committee to do.

.6.45 pm

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

At first sight, it would surprise most people to hear that we need any such addition as this new clause to our legislative armoury. The truth is that we do not. The British criminal law already punishes torture and therefore prevents torture. Because we live in a democratic society in which, under all Governments, there is the rule of law and an honourable police force, it is almost impossible in our recent history to discover any case of torture. However, it is not superfluous to introduce this measure, particularly on the 40th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. This country, and particularly this Government, are in the forefront of international activity to try to create greater respect worldwide for human rights.

Whenever the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs goes abroad—I speak from experience as a member of the Committee—it always asks for a brief from Amnesty International and it always raises human rights issues in any country that it visits. The unfortunate fact is that half the nations of the world practise some form or some degree of torture. It does not seem to matter whether they are signatories of the international convention on human rights. They still practise torture but they pretend that they do not. It is for a country such as Britain, which is democratic, has a free press and a high respect for the rules of international law and human decency, to press these matters as widely as it can.

We are indebted to Amnesty International for the influence that it exerts. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) was one of the founders in 1961 of the British branch of Amnesty International. It has a membership of about 44,000; worldwide it has a membership of 1,750,000. During the past two years, Amnesty International has doubled its membership in Britain. It has called consistently for the kind of measure that the Govenment are introducing into this Bill.

Therefore, it is also a tribute to Amnesty International and the wonderful work that it does that this Government, who of all Governments might have thought that it was superfluous for us to be expected to introduce such a measure into our law, have taken the lead of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and introduced it into our law. It is a signal to the rest of the world that we in Britain mean business in human rights and that we will go on trying to ensure that torture, wherever it exists throughout the world, in any country over which we have any influence, is eliminated. Because it is a good thing, and because there is nothing bad that one can say about the step that the Government are taking, I, and I expect all hon. Members, enthusiastically welcome the new clause.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I intend to emulate the brevity of the speeches that we have heard in the debate. I begin by associating myself with the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) about the contribution of Amnesty International, recognising the assiduity with which it briefs hon. Members and the care with which it ensures that these matters are kept high in our consideration.

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not think I am being churlish if I challenge him on his assertion that there is such a thing as the British criminal law. Of course there is the English criminal law, of which he is an eloquent exponent, and there is the Scottish criminal law, derived from an entirely different source, which shares certain characteristics with the Anglo-Saxon system, but which is by no means precisely the same. It now appears that some of the things that we have taken for granted are being adopted as a matter of novelty into the English system.

My principal purpose in intervening is to associate myself with the observations of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) about subsection (4). Like him, I am exercised by the idea that there can be a defence to the crime of torture. Like him, I am concerned at the notion that there might be circumstances in which the infliction of torture could be regarded as being carried out with lawful authority, in circumstances which could be described as a justification or in circumstances for which there could be an excuse.

My concern is, first, at the notion that there needs to be a defence at all, and, secondly, at the particular elements of that defence, which appear to be available as alternatives—if I read the contents of subsection (5) correctly. The Minister should deal with those matters when he responds to the debate, because, for some of us at least, there are still some apprehensions as to precisely why the defence is necessary and in what circumstances the Minister conceives that the defence might legitimately be prayed in aid.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I am sorry that I cannot join in the general rush to welcome the new clause. One is bound to ask certain questions about it. For example, why, never before in the whole of our legal history, has it been necessary to make torture a crime in the law of this country? There is a very good reason why we have not yet had to do that. Normally, in this country, the acts or omissions which constitute what others would call torture are criminal, and people who conduct themselves in such a way as to come within that category are proceeded against, and have been since time immemorial. So why on earth are we now saying that we must have a separate offence of torture?

When the Minister has finished his conversation with his PPS and can pay attention to what I am saying, I should like to ask him what part of our law at the moment does not cover the evidence, facts and misconduct which new clause 72 is intended to cover.

Mr. Lawrence

That is not the point.

Mr. Stanbrook

My hon. and learned Friend says that that is not the point, but so much bad law is enacted out of a genuine attachment to abstract principles of justice, humanity and human rights that very often the point of view expressed by my hon. and learned Friend covers more than it should cover. My objection is that we should not legislate so broadly. We should consider much more carefully, not only the principle of the crime as defined, but all the ramifications included in the new clause.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Will my hon. Friend explain whether it would be possible for us to ratify the United Nations convention on torture and other degrading and inhuman acts without the new clause?

Mr. Stanbrook

That is the substance of the question that I addressed to my hon. Friend the Minister. What is there in the convention that we could not ratify, even without incorporating the terms of the convention, or something similar to it, into our domestic law? Most of the offences covered by the new clause would constitute crimes under our existing law. That is why some United Nations and other multinational conventions that Britain has ratified have not required specific legislation in this country to enable us to do so.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Has my hon. Friend considered the vast number of instances where no physical harm is caused but where something cruel or degrading, or where an omission to do something, has put someone in fear? I know that he is a lawyer. Can he think of any offence that could be commited under the existing law under those circumstances? I do not think that there is any such offence. Has he considered whether mental cruelty or torture is covered by the new clause? That is not a positive offence. It is not an offence under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which I know he has in mind. It is covered by the new clause, and it would be torture.

Mr. Stanbrook

With great respect to my hon. Friend and to our mutual profession, he is suffering from the idea that imprecise language will help us attain our objective. The very words "mental cruelty" are capable of many definitions and could apply to many different examples of behaviour. Not every individual case of mental cruelty that we meet in the divorce courts would constitute a crime, still less a crime capable of being punished by a life sentence of imprisonment, or capable of extradition, on proof of mental cruelty such as is established in divorce courts, for example. Should we go to that extent?

Mr. Ashby


Mr. Stanbrook

My hon. Friend says no, and I entirely agree with him. That is just why we must be careful. In new clause 72 the definition of torture applies whether the pain and suffering is physical or mental". That must cover a multitude of actions by individuals. Although we know precisely what we are talking about in individual cases, many of us would agree that this is nowhere near what we would consider to be serious torture such as we have now decided to embody in this formidable legislation at the behest of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and some of his hon. Friends. We are being led astray.

7 pm

Another example of the undesirability of tackling this problem in this way is new clause 74, which provides that we shall extradite someone to any country that has ratified this convention, whatever that country's laws and whatever its justification, based on the facts of the case. Some countries regard an offence against humanity as serious. We all agree that such offences sound serious and would justify the most serious punishment, but the notion is so ill-defined that it would be quite wrong for us to extradite a British citizen to face trial in any of the countries that operate a law such as this, which is so ill-defined and vague that it is almost a catch-all provision for any conduct of which the country disapproves.

We all agree that torture is, or should be, criminal, but when it comes to defining or changing our law to embrace that principle in the way that is proposed here, we create great problems for ourselves.

Mr. Sayeed

My hon. Friend's argument is that everything in the new clause is already covered by the criminal law, of which he is an eminent practitioner, while I am a layman. However, would torture of the sensory deprivation sort be covered by our present law?

Mr. Stanbrook

I correct my hon. Friend. I did not say what he has alleged. I asked whether the new clause covered anything new. That is precisely what I asked the Minister, who is the one who can answer the question.

We rush too quickly into adopting great declarations of principle. Ours is the country that least needs to force upon itself provisions about human rights such as this. For centuries this country of ours has led the world in the protection of human rights. The funny thing is that we are so anxious to live up to our standards—we cannot be blamed for this—that we adopt these grand declarations even when they are not necessary.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West said that, although the new clause did not apply to us, we should make it apply, for reasons of solidarity and the desirability of aligning ourselves with other states, to emphasise to them the importance of outlawing this offence. But the countries that need some sort of protection of human rights and against torture are the very ones that are the first to ratify declarations such as these, which is the nub of the problem. We shall achieve nothing, except to exhort other countries, by ratifying conventions of this kind. We can well do without instituting them in our domestic law ——

Mr. Archer

The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that I said that one powerful argument for what we are doing —we are grateful to the Government for this—is that it will enable us to add our voice to what I hope will soon be international unanimity on this subject. I should not want it to be thought that the Opposition concede that there never has been any act in this country that would have been prosecuted under these provisions—or that there never could be. I make no such concession.

Mr. Stanbrook

I am glad to hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, but it does not remove the basic objection to the new clause. This is one of those declarations of principle that are adopted "pour encourager les autres," and we do not need it. I accept that international solidarity in matters of this sort is desirable, but we must not mislead ourselves into thinking that by adopting this we show that our citizens need it, or that the mere ratification of this international convention by any other country will change its policies or give greater protection to its citizens. The countries that most need protection of human rights are those that have signed, or are rushing to sign, the convention. Other countries such as ours, that like to live up to standards such as these, have already done just that in the past.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Conservative Members are rather complacent to suggest that the ratification of this measure is only a matter of form to fit in with United Nations provisions, rather than something that we require to protect human rights in this country. New clause 72(3) provides: It is immaterial whether the pain or suffering is physical or mental". That means that when the courts come to act on this provision, a great deal of evidence that is relevant to mental and physical torture will start to be taken into account. It is quite possible then that the evidence that is produced and the general climate of opinion among social experts and others will begin to affect the nature of the judgments that the courts make.

That is a defensive position and it ties in well with the experiences that have led the United Nations to draw up this convention. It was not just plucked out of thin air or from the worst experiences of the worst tyrannies. It deals with a problem that exists across the world, even within democratic societies—the more so as society becomes more complex and the methods used to torture people become more complex and specialised. So defences begin to be needed.

I recognise that this is still perceived as the ratification of the 1984 United Nations convention. That was adopted in December 1984, and although I welcome its inclusion in the new clause—that is the result of the views that the Labour party expressed in Committee, to which the Government have responded—the Minister should explain the delay involved. Why was not special legislation introduced at an earlier stage?

It has been said that lawful torture is still permitted. Article 1 of the convention states that it does not include pain or suffering arising from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions". New clause 72(4) merely elaborates that provision. However, without laws being passed to encourage torture, we should fear actions or practices that might lead to mental cruelty. I am not a solid and committed advocate of a Bill of Rights, but if we had legislation such as the convention for when pressures and difficulties arise we would have another measure to check our actions.

I should like the Minister to say why there is no retrospective element in the new clause. There were provisions in the Housing Bill, which we discussed at length, relating to consultation with housing action trusts, which could be regarded as being retrospective in character, although there is some dispute about its nature.

Mr. Ashby

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the new clause should be retrospective. Is he suggesting that somebody should be locked up for life for an offence that did not exist at the time when he committed it? That goes against every idea of civil rights.

Mr. Barnes

The convention was adopted in 1984. Many hon. Members claimed that it is unnecessary in this country because everything in the garden is lovely. A law that allows us to delve into the past and deal with unjust and unreasonable matters may be worthy of consideration. I am not putting that forward as an amendment or suggesting definite change, but I should like the Minister to give his reaction to that suggestion.

Article 10 of the convention states: Each State Party shall ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel, civil or military medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment. Many other articles refer to similar provisions. We are introducing a measure that the courts are expected to take into account, but at the same time we must ensure that the conditions that lead to those court cases being brought are not operating in society. Do the Government intend to introduce back-up provisions?

New clause 73 requires the consent of the Attorney-General the Attorney-General of Northern Ireland before the instigation of cases. Does that fit in with the convention, which allows for procedures whereby people can more freely use the courts to challenge the use of mental and physical torture against them?

7.15 pm
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

I welcome the new clause. That makes it an all-party welcome—at least from all the parties that were represented in Committee.

We had an interesting debate in Committee on ratifying the convention and changing the law to enable us to do so. It is right to welcome the Government's initiative and to thank the Minister for carrying out the undertaking that he gave in Committee.

I place on record my thanks to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) for the tremendous work that he did to ensure that the new clause came before the House. I associate with those remarks the tremendous work done by Amnesty International.

I hope that there would be a unanimous welcome for the new clause. In fairness, I can say that it has received wide-ranging support from hon. Members. We have often criticised other countries that have used torture to obtain confessions, admissions and information. I believe that it was right to condemn such acts. It has been said that we do not need this provision, but we should not be complacent. There may have been occasions when it could have been used.

We shall be in a stronger position as a result of its being part of our criminal law, and I commend that view to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). We shall be in a stronger position to condemn acts of torture wherever they happen. If it is enshrined in our law and we ratify the convention, we shall have greater moral authority to condemn torture in other countries.

Congratulations are due to all those who have worked hard on this subject, and I am sure that that will be a source of tremendous pleasure to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley West.

There has been a small sub-theme to the debate, to which I do not ask the Minister to respond. We have heard that there may be no such thing as British law, but that there may be English and Scottish law. Where does that leave Wales?

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I am grateful to the Minister for his indulgence. He clearly did not expect me to speak at this stage of the debate.

I should like to associate myself with the remarks made about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who has worked so hard for many years with Amnesty International, and who has been instrumental in the inclusion of the new clause in the Bill. It is quite a remarkable and rare achievement that hon. Members, in a single capacity, can change the law to its benefit with the consent and consensus of the whole House. My right hon. and learned Friend has joined the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), who brought about changes in the abortion law in 1967, and certain other hon. Members who have managed to change the law.

I think that it is right for me to put this on the record, because he and I shared Opposition Front-Bench responsibility on Northern Ireland for three years, and his libertarian instincts and devotion to the principles of Amnesty are salutary not only for all of us but for the international movement against torture in any of its forms. I thought that I should render homage—fi may use a French phrase translated into English—n behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West.

I am also glad to be in the House with such honourable company as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), because he and I have both spent some time on Northern Ireland affairs and on matters relating to the police. He has very strong libertarian instincts and has expressed them throughout many years in the House of Commons. One phrase in his speech that I noted and picked up was that torture does not exist in this country. That must be something for us to reflect upon in the troubled world in which we live. We see torture all around us. The IRA terrorist who was recently sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment amputated the thumbs of his kidnapped victims. That was not very far from our own shores.

I remember the early 1960s, when the Algerian war was going on with the French settlers, and torture was used against some of the fedayeen caught by the French paratroopers. That was a distasteful experience and showed the great difficulties of bringing a colonial empire to an end.

Europe, too, has known torture. We do not need to go further back than the last war to find refined torture used upon people in concentration camps. Whatever the outcome of the appeal of Mr. Demjanjuk in Israel, we have seen that torture is not far from our civilisation and is something that we have to cope with. When the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds says that torture does not exist in this country, we should be thankful.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman, in his remarks about this country, would include Northern Ireland, because some of the appalling things that the IRA do there must qualify as torture.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful for the hon. Lady's intervention. She would know, if she had spent, as I have, three years as a Front-Bench spokesman on Northern Ireland, that the first thing that one learns is that when we talk of "our country" and "this country," we are referring to the United Kingdom, which, of course, includes Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.

The IRA has a record of death that is second to none, and all hon. Members have used the opportunities available to them to condemn that kind of degrading and inhuman treatment. Therefore, I certainly include Northern Ireland in my remarks in relation to torture.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who has left the Chamber, mentioned that we do not need the concept in the clause because there are already provisions in British criminal law to deal with those who inflict torture or degrading punishment upon our citizens. As he also said, this is the 40th year of the universal declaration of human rights.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Government have decided to adopt the terms of the convention into our law has a great deal of significance not only for us but for the rest of Europe and the world. We still like to think of ourselves as leaders in certain areas, such as the humanitarian and liberal spheres. The fact that we are taking this issue of the convention seriously and placing it on our statute book is a sign to the rest of the world that we in this country, and certainly in the House of Commons, condemn torture in all forms and manifestations.

We are, nevertheless, as I said, in a world where torture still exists and there have been allegations of torture within certain member states of the Council of Europe. It is a great democratic principle that we should not only recognise that torture exists in other countries, but use our moral authority to bring pressure to bear upon those countries to aspire to the very high standards of our country.

I often think of the individual victim of torture—who may be in some solitary cell in a country in the near east. Who wonders what will happen to him, who is listening to his tiny voice, feels for him and is prepared to do something for him? The fact that the House is prepared to enact this clause is a message to those in authority, those who have power over others, those who inflict torture, that, as far as this country is concerned, they cannot and will not get away with it; that we shall use all the pressure that we can bring to bear to ensure that human rights are upheld in other countries.

There is also the European Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, under the Privileges and Immunities Order 1988. This applies to all 21 member countries of the Council of Europe and requires seven ratifications. It has so far been ratified by Turkey in February 1988 and Ireland and Malta in March 1988. That committee has created the most sophisticated surveillance system for the prevention of torture. It is a committee of independent experts on human rights, and, when the convention has been ratified by all countries, it will be empowered to visit at any time any place of civil or military detention. The committee will also he able to make recommendations to the competent authorities. Therefore, by ratifying both the European convention and the United Nations convention, Her Majesty's Government are tonight showing their commitment to outlawing torture.

It is not for me to delay the House unduly by referring to the history of the European convention on human rights, which began with the Council of Europe in 1953 and entered into force in that year. It secured from member states commitments to promote human rights and recognise that individuals had rights under international law. Subsequently, it was realised that there ought to be preventive, non-judicial machinery related to the European convention.

Article 3 of the convention states: no one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The committee was constituted as a result of that article, for the purpose of rooting out torture and bringing pressure to bear. We have therefore come into line with the United Nations convention and the European convention.

It is important that the treatment of torture in law keeps pace with technological advances, which can mean severe psychological suffering without any physical signs.

Turkey was the first country to ratify the convention. It is essential that the United Kingdom should play an active role in relation to the convention to ensure that, in practice, the committee lives up to the original intentions of the Council of Europe.

I understand that the Organisation of American States is interested in a convention similar to the European convention, or would be interested in adopting the United Nations convention. Opposition Members are often critical of events in Central America, and certainly Latin America, where there have been many gruelling examples of torture, over which we have had no real influence and have no real control. If the House, by accepting the new clause and getting it on to the statute book, can assist Latin American countries to deal with torture in their own countries, that will be an important and significant step forward.

7.30 pm
Mr. John Patten

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), who has spoken so lucidly. I understand and appreciate his depth of knowledge and the care and consideration that he has given to the issues, particularly with his experience as a Front-Bench spokesman on Northern Ireland for three years.

I am glad that there has been a general though not complete welcome for the measure from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who spoke so generously from the Opposition Front Bench, from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), and particularly from the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones). Thanks to the hon. Gentleman and to the assiduous tutorials that I was given in Welsh pronunciation by the Welshman in Warrington, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler), I am now able to say Ynys Môn with complete self-confidence.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) used the word "torture" when referring to Northern Ireland. The European Court of Human Rights specifically held that we were not guilty of torture. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) referred clearly to this. It was held that there had been ill-treatment. My hon. Friend made it clear that the new codes of practice have not led to any complaint being upheld.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) were concerned about the words used in the drafting. The convention refers to pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions". The words used in the clause are the words which we think best fit the translation of the convention. I gave assurances to the hon. Member for Dewsbury and to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West that we would try to import into British law the convention exactly as it stands. That is what we are trying to do by the use of those words.

Perhaps I may give two brief examples, for the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and for the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East, of where we need a "lawful authority" exemption. First, it could be argued by some, and would be argued by many, that imprisonment causes mental suffering. Undoubtedly it does cause mental suffering, but that would not mean torture in the sense intended by the convention. As a second example, a police officer might cause pain in effecting the arrest of a dangerous or violent criminal, but that policeman or policewoman would be acting lawfully and would not be exposed to the accusation of torture. It is because we are to deal with every possibility that we have used those words to bring into effect the convention.

Two important points were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). He was rightly concerned about extradition law and new clause 74. The countries which I might refer to in shorthand as villains, to which we would not particularly wish to return our nationals, would often be countries with which we do not have treaties. I can reassure my hon. Friend that all the protections under part I, which we debated in Committee, will be available to a fugitive. After all those protections, there is always the discretion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to return a fugitive.

My hon. Friend also asked why we needed this whole apparatus. He wanted to know why we had to change the law. It is certainly true, as my hon. Friend said, that physical pain or suffering is generally covered by offences of assault in the English and Welsh law and also in the Scottish law. One reason why we need the legislation is the introduction of mental suffering. We also needed to have extraterritorial jurisdiction, which is not available for most offences. I remember well the remarks of my hon. Friend in Committee. He does not care much for the concept, but I can reassure him, if it is reassurance, that it is at least precedented in previous Acts, such as the Nuclear Materials (Offences) Act 1983.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) raised important points about education and information. I agree that these are matters of first importance should the Bill pass into law. There is no need for any further legislation on the issue. There is sufficient provision—for example, in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, in the codes of practice following that Act and in the prison rules—to deal with those issues. There is also the excellent training that is given to police officers and to prison staff.

I welcome the debate that we have had. Most of all, I welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West guided us in this direction in the first instance.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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