HC Deb 02 March 2000 vol 345 cc571-88 1.20 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the case of Senator Pinochet, former Head of State of Chile.

This morning, I informed the House by written answer that I had discharged Senator Pinochet from the Spanish extradition request, on the grounds that he was unfit to stand trial and that no significant improvement in his condition could be expected. I also reported my decision not to issue an authority to proceed in the competing extradition requests from Belgium, France and Switzerland, because none of those disclosed an extradition crime. A detailed explanation of my reasons is included in my answer.

The House will also now be aware, from the written answer given earlier today by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, that the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided, on the material available to him, that there is no realistic prospect of a conviction in this jurisdiction, and that in any event, in the light of the medical condition of Senator Pinochet, no court here would allow a trial to take place. My hon. and learned Friend will be making a statement to the House immediately after mine.

Senator Pinochet departed from his bail address at Wentworth, Surrey this morning. He was driven under police escort to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. A plane provided by the Chilean Government and carrying Senator Pinochet took off at about 1.10 this afternoon. The senator has now left the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

Let me now give the House a full account of what has happened in this case, as I said I would once the proceedings were concluded. I begin by making some general observations. My role under the Extradition Act 1989 is a quasi-judicial one. Although not generally incorporated into our domestic law, both the European extradition convention and the United Nations torture convention place important obligations on the United Kingdom, but I have to discharge those obligations within the powers and responsibilities placed upon me by United Kingdom law.

All the decisions which I have taken have been mine alone, and have not been decisions of Her Majesty's Government. Throughout, I have been keenly aware of the gravity of the crimes allegedly committed by Senator Pinochet and of the desire for justice by those who suffered at the hands of the former Chilean regime.

This has been an unprecedented case. Both I and the courts have had to navigate in uncharted territory. Two judicial Committees of the House of Lords took different views about what offences constituted extradition crimes. More recently, Mr. Justice Maurice Kay ruled that my refusal of Belgium's request for disclosure of the medical report which I had commissioned was correct. Shortly afterwards, a full divisional court, while acknowledging strong arguments on both sides, came to the opposite view.

The following is the chronology of the significant events. Senator Pinochet landed at Heathrow airport on 22 September 1998, for a private visit to the United Kingdom. On 16 October, the Metropolitan police received an extradition request from a Madrid court for the provisional arrest of Senator Pinochet for serious offences, including the murder of Spanish citizens. The police were advised by officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that Senator Pinochet did not enjoy diplomatic immunity from arrest. Bow Street magistrates court then issued a provisional arrest warrant, and Senator Pinochet was arrested that evening.

Senator Pinochet's solicitors made representations to me on 21 October 1998, asking me to cancel the provisional arrest warrant. I declined to do so, on the basis that the issues raised at that stage were a matter for the court. Senator Pinochet's solicitors challenged my decision. A divisional court, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, rejected that challenge and awarded me my costs. The court nevertheless quashed the warrant on the grounds that Senator Pinochet did have sovereign immunity as a former Head of State and that the warrant did not disclose an extradition crime.

The Crown Prosecution Service, acting on behalf of Spain, then entered an appeal to the House of Lords. In a unique feature of the case, the issue was considered twice by the House of Lords, first in November 1998 and then, after the first judgment was vacated, in March 1999. The key majority finding of the second court was that torture was an international crime over which the parties to the torture convention had universal jurisdiction, and that a former Head of State did not have immunity from such crimes. That ruling was a landmark judgment in human rights law, whose impact has been felt far beyond our shores. It will be a permanent legacy of the Pinochet case.

The second House of Lords judgment restricted the scope and number of the alleged crimes in respect of which Senator Pinochet could be extradited for torture and conspiracy to torture committed in Chile after the UK'S ratification of the torture convention in December 1988. The charges were, of course, still extremely serious.

I issued a second authority to proceed on 14 April 1999, giving my reasons. A second judicial challenge to my decision was made by Senator Pinochet's representatives, but was again rejected by the divisional court. On 8 October 1999, Senator Pinochet was committed by the Bow Street magistrate to await my decision on whether to extradite him to Spain. Senator Pinochet's solicitors applied for habeas corpus, and a hearing date was set for 20 March this year.

On 14 October 1999, I received representations from the Chilean embassy, supported by medical reports which suggested that there had been a recent and significant deterioration in Senator Pinochet's health. I commissioned a medical examination of Senator Pinochet by a team of independent practitioners of outstanding national and international reputation in their fields. The team consisted of Professor Sir John Grimley Evans, Professor Andrew Lees and Dr. Michael Denham. On the team's advice, Dr. Maria Wyke, a consultant neuropsychologist, was also brought in.

I want to put on record my gratitude to Sir John Grimley Evans and his team for their assistance. They have performed a very significant public service. They have not been able to speak freely in explaining and, where necessary, defending their findings, despite widespread public scrutiny.

The clinicians were instructed to undertake an examination and to provide me with a fully comprehensive report on the state of Senator Pinochet's health. In particular, they were asked to advise whether any aspects of Senator Pinochet's health suggested that he was not then fit, or was likely to become fit, to stand trial in Spain. They were told that I was particularly interested in Senator Pinochet's ability to follow a line of questioning, to recall events—some of which took place as long ago as the 1970s—and to give coherent evidence. They were also asked to advise me on whether Senator Pinochet could be feigning any of his symptoms.

As I disclosed in my statement on 12 January, the conclusions of the medical report, applying the tests that I had outlined, indicated that Senator Pinochet was unfit to stand trial and that no significant improvements in that position could be expected. The Government's chief medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, confirmed the quality and thoroughness of the report. I am placing a copy in the Library of the House.

I informed the interested parties on 11 January that, in the light of the medical evidence and subject to any representations received by 18 January, I was minded to conclude that no purpose would be served by continuing the Spanish extradition request.

On 25 January, a judicial review application was made by Belgium and Amnesty International for disclosure of the medical report. In inviting Senator Pinochet to undertake the medical examination, officials had, on my behalf, given an undertaking of confidentiality. I indicated to the divisional court that although I would have preferred to disclose the medical report to the requesting states, I considered myself bound by the undertakings that I had given, subject to any overriding public interest.

Mr. Justice Maurice Kay held that the report should not be disclosed, but a full divisional court, in a judgment of 15 February, said that while the issue had been a very difficult one, the need for transparency to the requesting states in this exceptional case outweighed any duty of confidentiality. It said, however, that I should disclose the report to Spain, Belgium, France and Switzerland only in terms of strict confidence. I complied with the judgment. I regret to say that the content of that report was almost immediately leaked to the press.

Requesting states were invited to make any representation on the medical report by Tuesday 22 February. The representations included opinions from medical practitioners questioning the conclusions of the report. I asked Professor Sir John Grimley Evans and his team to review those medical opinions, and received their advice on 27 February. The team's advice was also reviewed on 28 February by the Government's chief medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson. He commented:

I was very impressed with the care with which Sir John (and his team) has responded to each of the points of criticism of their report. This is not a crude rebuttal—it is a sound and logical reply supported by clinical evidence. I believe it is a further reflection of the skill, integrity and independence with which this task has been carried out by the clinicians. I considered the matter afresh in the light of all the material. Having done so, I was satisfied that the conclusion of the original report was correct. I intend to place the medical representations and the team's response in the Library once I have secured the agreement of the requesting states.

The principle that an accused person should be mentally capable of following the proceedings, instructing lawyers and giving coherent evidence is fundamental to the idea of a fair trial. The trial of an accused in the condition diagnosed in Senator Pinochet, on the charges that have been made against him in this case, could not be fair in any country, and would violate article 6 of the European convention on human rights in those countries that are party to it.

A number of the representations that I received argued that even if there were questions about Senator Pinochet's fitness for trial, those should be determined in Spain and not here. I looked at that matter with great care. However, I was advised, and I concluded, that on the basis of English law I was bound to form a view of my own on Senator Pinochet's fitness to stand trial and that I could not refrain from reaching such a view on the basis that the question could be determined in Spain.

In any event, I established, with the assistance of the Spanish authorities, that Spain's principles for determining the fitness of an accused to stand trial are similar to ours. I therefore concluded that given the advice that no improvement in Senator Pinochet's condition could be expected, no judicial purpose would be served by the continuation of extradition proceedings for the objective of a trial in Spain which could not result in any verdict on the charges against him.

Of the 70,000 letters and e-mails from the public which I have received from all over the world, and many letters from Members of Parliament and organisations, almost all have urged me to allow the extradition proceedings to take their course, so that the allegations made against Senator Pinochet could be tried. I attach great importance to the principle that universal jurisdiction against persons charged with international crimes should be effective.

I am all too well aware that the practical consequence of refusing to extradite Senator Pinochet to Spain is that he will probably not be tried anywhere. I am very conscious of the sense of injury that is bound to be felt by those who suffered from breaches of human rights in Chile in the past, as well as their relatives.

All of these are matters of great concern, and I had them very much in mind when considering the evidence about Senator Pinochet's state of health. They have been among the reasons why I required the evidence of Senator Pinochet's medical condition to satisfy a high standard of expertise, thoroughness, objectivity and cogency before I was prepared to act on it. Ultimately, however, I was driven to the conclusion that a trial of the charges against Senator Pinochet, however desirable, was simply no longer possible.

The case has taken 17 months, much of that in court proceedings. While the House of Lords hearings on state immunity were indeed an exceptional feature, that period is not an unusual one in a complex, contested extradition matter. The Extradition Act 1989 is now more than a decade old and I believe that the time has come to review it. Work on that was in fact already under way before the Pinochet case began, and I intend to publish a consultation paper in due course on the options for streamlining our extradition procedures.

As I have already made clear, this case is unprecedented. Throughout the process, I have sought to exercise my responsibilities in a fair and rational way in accordance with the law. The case has understandably aroused great debate and feeling. Its impact has been felt worldwide. It has established, beyond question, the principle that those who commit human rights abuses in one country cannot assume that they are safe elsewhere. That will be the lasting legacy of this case.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for his customary courtesy in giving me early sight of it.

I am sure that I speak for many when I welcome the fact that we have a final decision in the case, which has mainly been characterised by muddle, contradiction and delay. I also welcome the fact that there will be a review of the law of extradition, as it is clear that the case has pointed up several unsatisfactory aspects. I look forward to the consultation paper being issued in due course.

Will the right hon. Gentleman please publish an estimate of the full costs from the beginning to the end of the case? Will he also please publish an estimate of the police manpower involved in the case?

Will the Home Secretary explain the delays, particularly the two delays that occurred between October and March? The right hon. Gentleman was informed in October that there was a medical question mark over Senator Pinochet's fitness to stand trial, yet the procedures were dragged out until March before we finally had a decision. I ask the same question in respect of the application for habeas corpus, which was made in October and had not been determined by the time that everything else was resolved.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there are serious lessons to be learned from the case? It remains the fact that Senator Pinochet came to this country for medical treatment and, at the behest of our ethical Foreign Office, was greeted and feted at Heathrow—yet hardly any time later, he was arrested while still recovering from the operation for which he had come to this country.

The senator and those arguing on the other side of the case were subjected to a highly protracted legal process in which the Secretary of State appears to have been unable swiftly to determine the various matters that were his responsibility, rather than the responsibility of the court. He had the power to refuse the extradition application, but above all he had the power to act much more quickly when he knew that there was a question mark over the senator's health. It is that delay, rather than the original delay, which concerns me most.

The Secretary of State glossed over the leak of the medical report; he mentioned it, but he glossed over what was behind it. It remains a feature of the case that the Home Secretary gave an undertaking of medical confidentiality on the basis of which, presumably, permission to make the medical examination was granted. That confidentiality was then breached. What investigation has he made of that? What representations has he made to Spain, if that is where the breach occurred? How seriously does he take the matter? He is shaking his head, but I am not asking him to provide an explanation by magic; I am asking him what attempts he has made to find one. That is a reasonable question.

Senator Pinochet has been returned to Chile, and many of us will welcome that because we believe that Chile should have determined whether the case came to trial, and held that trial if it so determined. The outcome is satisfactory, but the case was deeply unsatisfactory. At the end of the procedures, I cannot believe that Spain, Chile, the senator or the relatives and victims of his alleged crimes are happy. I cannot believe that anyone has gained satisfaction from the handling of the case. When reviewing the workings of our extradition law, will the Home Secretary also review the points on which he had absolute discretion, but took a long time to exercise it?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady asked me specific questions, which I shall try to answer, and made some general observations with which I shall also deal. Our current provisional estimate of the Government's legal costs is just under £1.4 million, although they are likely to be greater. I cannot provide an estimate of the cost of the police protection. I may be able to do so with one important proviso: that I am satisfied that that will not compromise such security operations in future. That has been the policy of successive Governments. Subject to that, I will provide the information to the House and the right hon. Lady.

The right hon. Lady asked about the delay. No unreasonable delay occurred from the point in early October when I was informed by the Chilean Government—not Senator Pinochet's representatives—of anxieties about his medical condition. It is very unusual in an extradition case for medical representations to be submitted by a third party, in this case the Chilean Government. We had to ensure that my actions were in accordance with the law. At that stage, the matter was before the courts, not before me. In normal circumstances, it would have been appropriate for the habeas corpus proceedings to be completed before further representations were considered by the Home Secretary.

In the light of the serious condition which was disclosed prima facie by the medical report from the Chilean embassy, I was satisfied that it was right and proper of me to seek further independent medical opinions about Senator Pinochet's condition. However, first, I had to assemble a team whose expertise and independence was beyond question. That was put in hand with the greatest possible speed, but it took the chief medical officer, the Home Office and me some time to assemble such a team. We had to check that its members had the relevant expertise, no connections with Spain or Chile, and no political affiliations that would later bring their integrity into question.

The right hon. Lady asked an eccentric question about the delay in the habeas corpus application. She should know that as we have separation of powers in this country, the timing of cases is a matter for the courts, not the Home Secretary. I reject her suggestion that I have acted without speed at any stage in the process. Whenever a decision has been ready for me to make, I have acted with speed.

The right hon. Lady asked about the leak of the medical reports. I greatly regret that leak. I offered medical confidentiality partly because I was concerned that if it was not provided—the information was given only to the senator's representatives, the Crown Prosecution Service and to me—there would be a danger that it would not simply be confined to those who had an interest in it, but broadcast worldwide.

I fully accepted that, in terms of seeking publicly to justify the conclusions I reached, it was easier for me to have that medical report on the record. I made it clear to the divisional court that I felt myself bound by the undertakings of medical confidentiality, which I had given in good faith, but of course if the court ordered otherwise I would have to follow the decision of the court. That is what I did—[Interruption.] That is precisely what I did. We do not know exactly where it was leaked, but there is every suggestion that it was leaked outside this jurisdiction. Inquiries are being made. I understand from the Spanish ambassador that Spain regrets the leak, but has been unable to conclude that it was the fault of the Spanish authorities.

I want to make two final points. I have dealt with the allegation that the right hon. Lady made about delay. She then suggested that there has been muddle and contradiction in this case. Looking at the Opposition's response, only they have shown the most extraordinary muddle and contradiction in the pursuit of this matter. This morning on the radio she said, commendably, that she had never suggested for one moment that anything I had done was improper. She also suggested that once the matter had been before me it was appropriate for me to make decisions. That is a rather different comment from past ones that I have had to accept without the possibility of responding.

The right hon. Lady told the Conservative party conference—I suspect more for its entertainment than as a recitation of the truth—that I had welcomed General Pinochet to the United Kingdom, when I had done absolutely nothing of the kind, and that I had arrested him, which I had also not done. There is also the comment of the Leader of the Opposition on 10 December 1998, who described my decision to issue the first authority to proceed as "cowardly". I do not happen to believe that accepting and acknowledging our international obligations and the rule of law is a matter of cowardice. Given the position that she is now taking, I hope that she will invite her right hon. Friend to withdraw such an unsubstantiated remark.

My final point is that I am sorry that the right hon. Lady did not see fit to acknowledge the very serious nature of the crimes alleged against Senator Pinochet. He was accused of torture and of conspiracy to torture of a very extreme kind. Those were and remain crimes that should have been the subject of international judicial process, but for the fact that this man was unfit to stand trial.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Home Secretary accept that many people in this country and around the world feel a sense of shame at the news that Pinochet has now left British airspace and is therefore free from any likelihood of prosecution in any court anywhere in the world? Does he also accept that in addition to the 31 cases of torture on which Pinochet stands indicted in British courts, he stands accused of the death or disappearance of more than 7,000 people in Chile? This man has not faced justice; he has avoided it. He has lived in luxury and gone through the courts here. None of his victims ever had the chance to go through courts or be represented anywhere. They were merely shot and murdered during his disgraceful regime.

Can the Home Secretary explain why, on 5 November 1999, he wrote to Pinochet's lawyers offering medical confidentiality in return for Pinochet undertaking a medical examination? Subsequent to the divisional court's decision to overturn the January decision of a court, Belgium, France and Spain all requested further medical examinations of Pinochet. Pinochet refused to be examined again and subsequently the Home Secretary has allowed him to leave this country.

Many people and many eminent doctors believe that Pinochet is capable of comprehending a case against him and is therefore capable of standing trial. Can the Home Secretary therefore explain why this situation has been allowed to develop? Would he be prepared to meet the families of the victims of torture and of people who have disappeared to explain to them personally why he thinks that that is the correct decision to take, when none of their relatives had any opportunity for any justice whatever during the reign of terror in Chile?

Mr. Straw

On my hon. Friend's last point, of course I would be happy to arrange a meeting with the families whom he speaks about to explain the decision that I came to, but I have to say that I reject a great deal of the rest of what he said. In the light of the medical evidence that I had before me, there was no case whatever for a further medical examination.

The situation was this. First, the Chilean embassy had arranged a medical examination of Senator Pinochet by people who were eminently qualified in their own field. Notwithstanding that, because the examination was by someone effectively appointed on the side of Senator Pinochet, I was not remotely willing to accept that advice as conclusive, even though it indicated that there had been a very significant deterioration in his health in the autumn of last year—so the panel was then appointed. Clear tests were set for the panel, but the decision about Senator Pinochet's unfitness to stand trial was mine, not its.

I asked the panel to offer advice on the basis of tests that I had set, but I then sought the further advice of the Government's most senior medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, on those reports. On 7 January, he wrote to me to say: This authoritative medical report leaves me no reason to doubt the specialists' judgement that the Senator is not fit to stand trial and that his present condition is not one which would be expected to improve. The report also makes clear that the Senator's condition could not be feigned. He repeated that conclusion when he commented on the further reports that I received very recently.

I have already explained why I offered medical confidentiality in this case. I believe that I was right to do so, notwithstanding the fact that I was always aware that it would be more difficult publicly to justify my conclusions on the basis of my simply reporting them, than if the report were made public in a worldwide sense.

My hon. Friend asked, would not the decision be greeted with shame? I do not believe that it will be greeted—or should be greeted—with shame. I hope that it is greeted with a recognition that, throughout the case, I have sought to follow the rule of law. That rule of law requires that those accused of very serious crimes, wherever those crimes are alleged to have happened, should be brought to justice. It also requires that there are some basic conditions relating to the medical and physical fitness of any accused before they can stand trial.

I have sought not only to be consistent within the case, but to be consistent between the case and other extradition cases with which I have dealt. I remind my hon. Friend that in the case of Roisin McAliskey—which was not the same, but where similar issues of her medical condition arose—I decided, again on the basis of independent medical evidence, not to order her extradition. I do not recall that he accused me of shameful conduct in that case; rather, what I remember is that he thanked me for the decision. We have to judge these issues on matters of principle, not according to the person concerned.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

While I share the disappointment of millions, probably, that Senator Pinochet has gone back to Chile, where he will probably never be prosecuted, I also share the Home's Secretary view that it is quite wrong to say that he or others have acted wrongly to delay the proceedings in this country. Anyone who knows anything about extradition law knows that there are legal proceedings and political proceedings and that they are bound to take a length of time if they are to be properly handled. I have been critical of some of the decisions along the way, but delay and confusion is not an allegation that comes properly from the Conservative Benches or elsewhere when discussing how the Home Secretary has dealt with the matter.

I want to ask the Home Secretary about two things, as well as welcoming his response to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), in which he said that he would meet victims and relatives of victims. Many of us have constituents who would appreciate the ability to discuss the implications of the decision today.

First, given that the two controversial matters were the medical evidence and the fitness to plead, and given that the Home Secretary is to review extradition law, will he take the assessment of who is a medical expert, how a judgment is reached on medical evidence and how a conclusion is drawn about unfitness to plead away from politicians and establish a process that is agreed between parties in advance and covers a variety of cases and, ideally, is agreed internationally?

Secondly, given that I share the Home Secretary's hope that the case is remembered for the fact that it established that dictators and political leaders cannot hide from the consequences of actions taken against their citizens, can he reassure me that it will be not just a theory, but a practice, that the international convention will not allow many countries to escape and that everyone will sign up to it? The sooner we get the International Criminal Court in place and in action so that such matters can be decided by international judges, the sooner we will be seen to have a fair international judicial system for dealing with terrible tyrants, as Senator Pinochet apparently was.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I understand the disappointment felt by relatives of the victims of what happened in Chile and also by the victims that are still alive. Had it not been for the senator's patent unfitness to stand trial, subject to any conclusions of habeas corpus and court proceedings, he would have stood to be extradited to Spain. That was the clear implication of decisions that I took earlier in the case to issue authorities to proceed.

The hon. Gentleman asked two questions about our review of extradition law. First, he asked whether it was possible to establish a protocol for the assessment of the medical conditions of those who are accused. We shall certainly think about that. Ultimately, decisions on such matters will have to be made by a court or by the Secretary of State. There is a nice issue as to where the balance lies. I do not believe that such decisions can be entirely handed over to the courts, but judgments as to how the issue should be streamlined need to be considered carefully.

Secondly, we are strongly committed to ensuring that we, as a country, uphold international law. We have sought to prove that in practice even more recently than the issue of the arrest warrant for Senator Pinochet. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we shall introduce legislation as soon as possible to bring the International Court of Justice into our law.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

I accept my right hon. Friend's decision—I do not think that "welcome" is the appropriate verb—but does he agree that Pinochet has already been judged at the bar of world opinion and that his crimes of torture and murder will ring through history? Are there not three conclusions to be drawn from this issue? First, dictators and tyrants do not escape justice, arrest and detention. Secondly, we have seen exposed, more by the antics of those in another place—an organisation that is loosely called "Tories for Torture"—the extraordinary behaviour of Conservative Members who have sought to justify crimes committed by one of their ideological bedmates and their double standards.

Thirdly and most importantly, is it not the case that Pinochet returns-to Chile a broken and humiliated man? His spell over Chile has been broken and the people of Chile have elected a socialist president—the best way of commemorating Salvador Allende's term of office. Although Pinochet may have escaped trial, his crimes will for ever be remembered as some of the most heinous and he was in this country when the world remembered the great evil that he did.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the extravagant and wholly ill-judged opinions that have been expressed about the consequences of the case. Although it was not a factor that I ever took into account, it was suggested—it was in the public print—that, if the proceedings against the senator continued for any period at all, and still more if he were extradited, it could lead to a return of dictatorial government in Chile. There is no evidence to suggest that consequence, but there is overwhelming evidence that not only in Chile, but across Latin America, the extradition process within the context of the British rule of law has assisted people in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America in coming to terms with a non-democratic past. That may be one of the legacies of this case.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

In the aftermath of the Home Secretary's decision, and of Senator Pinochet leaving our jurisdiction, would the Home Secretary be prepared to revisit another ancillary issue of public order about which I have remained silent for 17 months, until the main case was determined? I am referring to the continuous and noisy demonstration outside the London Clinic, for nearly a fortnight, in October 1998.

I raise the issue on two counts. The first is that there were people dying in the hospital and that their nearest and dearest were visiting them. Secondly, there is no question but that the people staffing the hospital were genuinely in fear, especially after an international television cameraman was apprehended on the very floor on which General Pinochet was situated. Does the Home Secretary think that demonstrations outside hospitals are an issue that we should revisit for the future?

Mr. Straw

I fully understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern in the matter. As he will know, similar concerns were expressed to me by Lord Biffen on behalf of the hospital. I also know that very great inconvenience was caused to patients in the London Clinic. I shall certainly take it up with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

May I just mention to my right hon. Friend that, as a Minister of State in the Foreign Office for four and a half years between 1975 and 1979, I heard testimonies repeated by family after family about the torture and disappearance of many of those who were lost? Tens of thousands of people were affected by the Pinochet regime. May I also remind my right hon. Friend and the shadow Home Secretary that that included the torture of a British citizen, Sheila Cassidy? Although I am willing to accept the decision that my right hon. Friend has had to make, I think that we should at least remind everyone that Pinochet received our judicial process in a fair way and had a fair hearing—which he denied tens of thousands of his own citizens.

Mr. Straw

I think that my hon. Friend's point is very well taken. He knows from his earlier experience of the very serious problems that affected the people of Chile in the period following the assassination of President Allende.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is it not worth reminding the House that in December 1997, when the Labour Government were in power, the senator came to the United Kingdom as a VIP guest, when he was commander-in-chief of the Chilean army? The VIP reception that he received when he came in December 1998, at the behest of the Foreign Office, was essentially no different. Now, the important thing is to forget this sorry episode as soon as possible—the least said, the soonest mended.

May I also say how pleased I am that, in 10 days, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), will go to Santiago for the inauguration of the new democratic Government under President Lagos? The Minister will find that Chile is a wholly democratic country which is under the rule of law that it has had ever since Pinochet voluntarily relinquished power.

Mr. Straw

I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will attend the presidential inauguration, which I believe takes place on Thursday. It is right to say that the elections in Chile were democratic and fully representative.

Let me just deal with the myth about Senator Pinochet being welcomed as a VIP guest. My understanding is that when he came to this country he was provided with VIP facilities at Heathrow, as is routine, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was aware of his visit. At that stage we had no knowledge that any extradition warrant was going to be issued in the Madrid court. It was not until I was on an aeroplane travelling to Avignon in France—to make a speech about the need to modernise extradition procedures, as it happens—that I was passed a copy of The Guardian, where I read a small item saying that Senator Pinochet was in the country and might be the subject of extradition proceedings, whereupon I suggested to my private secretary that we needed to find out something more about the matter.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I feel that a great injustice has been done today to the thousands of people who disappeared or were tortured or murdered, as well as to their families, many of whom have spent night after night and month after month outside the House of Commons protesting about General Pinochet. It is a tragedy that this country, which has signed up to all the human rights conventions and the convention on torture—the list of conventions is as long as one's arm—allowed General Pinochet to come here without prosecuting him ourselves. Why did we wait for Spain to ask for his extradition? Why did we not do it ourselves? We are obliged under the torture convention to prosecute those who come here and are accused of heinous tortures in their own country.

When further medical evidence was requested, a further examination should have been possible. There appeared to be doubt. Those who appeared on behalf of Amnesty International thought that it was essential that a further examination should be carried out. Why was that not done?

My right hon. Friend has not explained satisfactorily why General Pinochet was given an assurance that his medical details would remain secret. As my right hon. Friend knows, it is possible to make such details available in the public interest. It should not have required other countries to make that request to the courts.

There are clearly weaknesses in English law that need to be rectified. What proposals does my right hon. Friend have to investigate those weaknesses and ensure that if someone similar, such as Saddam Hussein or any of the Iraqi war criminals, visited this—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Lady has said enough for the Home Secretary to respond to.

Mr. Straw

Of course I understand the strong feelings involved, particularly those of victims and relatives affected in Chile. However, we cannot deal with such issues simply on the basis of emotion. If we did, there would be a great danger of falling into the trap of double standards—applying different principles to those of whom we approve from those that we apply to those of whom we disapprove. Many Conservative Members have fallen into that trap.

My hon. Friend talks about our being signed up to all the human rights conventions. It is precisely because we are signed up to human rights conventions, and we cannot pick and choose which articles of those conventions we apply, that I have had to come to my decision. The plain, unalterable and unanswerable fact is that Senator Pinochet's medical condition is such that to have extradited him to Spain would have been a palpable breach of article 6 of the European convention on human rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial.

The test of fitness to stand trial in Spain is in all material respects the same as the test to stand trial in the United Kingdom. Moreover, for reasons that I have explained, there is no question but that I could not have passed the responsibility for determining fitness to Spain. It was a decision that I had to make. If my hon. Friend had been in my position, faced with the same evidence and the duties imposed by all the international human rights conventions to which she refers, she would have had to come to the same conclusion as I did.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to put a question, I ask for much shorter questions and, if possible, shorter answers. There is another major statement to be made and we must protect the debate on Welsh affairs.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I welcome the fact that Senator Pinochet, a true friend of the United Kingdom, has returned to his home country—which is the proper forum to hear the allegations made against him.

Does the Home Secretary accept that had he acted more decisively in October 1998, this thoroughly unsatisfactory and disgraceful fiasco might have been avoided? I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in his difficulties over judicial review. The House should hold him to account, not the judges of our country. Is it not unacceptable that the Home Secretary was obliged to extend the incarceration of Britain's only political prisoner at the behest of foreign Governments?

The Home Secretary was saying that, were it not for the fact that the senator was unfit to plead, he would have bowed to the request of a foreign Government. What implications will that have in future for visitors from China, Zimbabwe and other countries of whose practices we disapprove?

Mr. Straw

We may geographically be an island but judicially we are not. We have international obligations to other countries that go back centuries. Extradition is one of them. The procedures are over-complicated, as this case illustrated—but they are such that other states are able to request extradition of a fugitive from this country, and we are able to do likewise. International order, and order within each country, is enhanced by the availability of extradition.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

The decision will undoubtedly be a bitter blow for all the people who suffered at the hands of the Pinochet regime, but I accept—as someone who campaigned for Pinochet to face justice—that it would be wrong for the senator to be placed in the dock if his health is as claimed by doctors. We shall soon see whether there is any recovery once he is in Chile.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in a country such as ours, governed by the rule of law and justice, it is absolutely nauseating that a former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, should act as the chief apologist of Pinochet and minimise the tortures and mass murders that occurred under his regime? She has brought only disgrace upon her name and reputation.

Mr. Straw

I never thought that Lady Thatcher's comments were consistent with support for the international rule of law, but that is for her to explain.

One of the key questions put on my behalf to the medical team was whether there was any possibility that Senator Pinochet could have feigned his symptoms. We have to rely on the best medical evidence available and the conclusion of the doctors and of the chief medical officer was: The senator's condition could not be feigned. It is hugely important in such a case that there is no fabrication of symptoms. I am as satisfied as I conceivably could be that there was none in this instance.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

When the Home Secretary reviews the extradition processes, will he do his best to introduce a filter against mischievous, maverick and politically motivated interventions by other countries in our judicial process? The right hon. Gentleman indicated that that was a large part of the problem, and such a filter would be a benefit of his quite proper review. If the Home Secretary fails to do that, it is possible that this country may be visited by fewer and fewer Heads of State—past and current—because they are afraid of the same happening to them. That might not be a bad thing from some people's point of view, but if we want an increasing number of heads of state from Africa and the far east to visit, they might seek some reassurance that they will not go through the same thing as Senator Pinochet.

Mr. Straw

Sometimes I find the right hon. Gentleman's arguments difficult to follow. If he is arguing that former Heads of State against whom there are allegations about the commissioning of serious crimes should enjoy immunity wherever they travel, I do not take that view.

The right hon. Gentleman implies that Spain's extradition request was mischievous and maverick. I do not for a second take that view either. That request was proper and was found by the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords in its first decision to be proper in all material respects as to the charges. The second decision by the House of Lords in March 1999 reduced the number of extradition crimes, but the two sets remaining, of torture and conspiracy to torture, were among the most serious of which anybody could be accused—and were backed by clear evidence. It would have remained to be seen, had extradition and a trial taken place, what decision would be arrived at by an independent Spanish court. But in no sense do I criticise Spain for seeking extradition.

Ms Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton, South-West)

My constituents include victims of Pinochet's brutal regime, and today they and I are required to swallow a very bitter pill. Can my right hon. Friend say where my constituents can turn now for the justice they ought to receive for the violations of their human rights?

Mr. Straw

I understand of course that for anybody who was in Chile and suffered at the hands of the Chilean regime when Senator Pinochet was in power, or for their relatives, my decision is a bitter pill to swallow. Throughout this case, I have sought to make decisions in accordance with the law and our international obligations.

We in Europe accord to people suspected of crimes greater rights than those accorded by many dictators to their victims—some of whom are never given the chance of a fair trial before they are convicted and punished for their alleged crimes. An essential part of our rule of law—and something to which Chile is aspiring—is that while international obligations require us to pursue persons against whom serious criminal allegations have been made, they are provided with minimal safeguards. One of those safeguards is that such persons should be fit to stand trial.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

I wonder whether the Home Secretary is sensing the temperature of the House? Both sides in this issue feel embittered and frustrated by the way matters have been handled. There is not just our view that this is an abuse of the ancient rule of hospitality against a guest of this country who showed us nothing but friendship in our hour of need. There is also the view of Government Back Benchers that the Home Secretary has used doctors to get him off a hook of his own making. As this episode unfolds, does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that he should have acted more decisively in October 1998—instead of clouding the whole issue in pseudo-legalisms and achieving nothing for this country or for Anglo-Chilean relations?

Mr. Straw

In my study of British extradition law over 17 months, I have never spotted even in a footnote that one of the considerations that I have to take into account is "the ancient rule of hospitality". That was not one of our considerations. I did act decisively in October 1998—I refused to quash the extradition warrant. The hon. Gentleman should have said that I made a decision with which he disagreed—that would have been the honest position to have adopted. Throughout this case, I have acted decisively. I have made decisions, whether yes or no, on the basis of the proposition before me. I have always been aware that whatever decision I would make would please some people and displease others.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

May I thank my right hon. Friend for explaining precisely how he arrived at what was obviously a finely balanced judgment? Does he agree that although many people will find it difficult to understand why it was not possible to see justice done in this case, we should not lose sight of the fact that this country facilitated the process whereby important principles of international law were established—first, that there should be universal jurisdiction for human rights abuses, and secondly, that Heads of State cannot automatically rely upon immunity? Does my right hon. Friend agree that important principles have been established none the less?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the principle of universal jurisdiction in respect of very serious crimes such as torture is now established as, too, is the principle that former heads of state are not immune from a process for such alleged crimes. If the approach of the then shadow Home Secretary had been followed, and I had simply quashed the original arrest warrant in October 1998, none of that experience would have followed.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

There is something uniquely shabby, even by the standards of this Government, in laying on a reception for Senator Pinochet when he arrived in the country and then conniving at his arrest under a defective warrant. Does the Home Secretary realise that the rest of us understand that the reason he sought medical evidence, or acceded to that request, was not his concern about Senator Pinochet's human rights, but the dawning realisation of the nightmare that would descend upon him if Senator Pinochet died in our jurisdiction? Is not one of the conclusions that he can draw from today's exchanges in the House that any lingering reputation that he had for ministerial competence has quite gone?

Mr. Straw

I leave aside the hon. Gentleman's gratuitous insult. What he says is wrong from top to bottom. There was no conniving at the arrest. He fails to understand that there is a separation of powers here. The hospitality department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not also a police department that executes warrants. [Interruption.] There should not be liaison between the hospitality department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the police and prosecuting authorities in this country. If there were liaison, there would be most serious allegations of connivance—it could be alleged that we were conniving to ensure that a fugitive from justice should escape from justice again. The Conservative party claims to be the party of law, yet for 17 months Conservative Members have been inviting me to ignore the law in order in pursuit of their own political convenience.

As to the suggestion that this was a defective warrant, the warrant was not defective—it was found to be fully effective by the courts. On two occasions, not one, my decision in respect of those warrants was challenged by Senator Pinochet's lawyers, and on both occasions the court found in my favour.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

It is not only shabby but entirely predictable that the Conservative party should continue to act as apologists for murderers and torturers. Did my right hon. Friend, upon the Spanish authorities receiving the medical evidence, receive notification from them of the withdrawal of their extradition order? Has the medical evidence been furnished to the Chilean authorities, whose ambassador to this country has upon more than one occasion stated that it is the aim of that Government to bring General Pinochet to justice? Should the general, as many of my constituents who suffered at his hands believe, undergo a miraculous improvement once returned to Chile, will the Government assist the Chilean Government in making every effort to ensure that at some point he stands before a court of law?

Mr. Straw

So far as I am aware, and I have taken this only from the television, the Spanish Government have indicated that they accept the decision that I have made in this case. There was some suggestion on the television news that the judge in the case may have taken a different view, but that is my understanding. I also understand that a similar approach has been taken by Belgium.

The medical evidence has not formally been made available to Chile, because Chile has not been party to the proceedings in this case, nor is it another requesting state. As the reports will now be made available in the Library of the House of Commons and formally made public, there is no reason why they should not also be available to the Government of Chile.

It is not for me to speculate about the prognosis of Senator Pinochet's condition, except to say that the very clear and thorough medical evidence from an independent medical team supported by the chief medical offer was that Senator Pinochet's symptoms were not feigned and that they were not likely to improve.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the Home Secretary accept that, like him, I believe in the relentless pursuit of people accused of crimes against humanity? Will he also accept that, unlike him and many of his right hon. and hon. Friends, I do not believe in the application of double standards to that pursuit? Does he know that many of my family were killed by the Nazis in the 1940s? Can he explain why the Government, who were so keen to pursue General Pinochet, have consistently stonewalled my attempts to get them to make representations to the Government of Syria over the case of Aloïs Brunner, Eichmann's right-hand man, whom they are still sheltering?

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when Konrad Kalejs, one of the very people who may have murdered the members of my family, was found to be in this country, he was not arrested, but bundled straight out of the country? I know that the researcher who was most qualified to advise the Home Secretary of the nature of Kalejs's crimes was not even contacted before the right hon. Gentleman kicked out this murderer, against whose crimes the crimes of Pinochet against leftists pale, if not into insignificance then into something far less horrible than what millions of victims suffered at the hands of the Nazis, whom the chattering classes evidently care so much less about.

Mr. Straw

Of course I understand the hon. Gentleman's very strong feelings when it comes to the holocaust. He knows that I, too, have personal reasons for understanding them. However, I wholly reject the argument about double standards. Indeed, my point to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) was that it was precisely to avoid double standards that I sought to act as consistently as I could with regard to this case and the case of Roisin McAliskey. Double standards would have arisen if I had acted in a completely contradictory way, which I suggest that in no sense have I done.

The hon. Gentleman referred to someone who was suspected of being a fugitive in Syria. It is the first time that the case has been made known to me. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make representations to me, I am happy to see him and follow them up.

The hon. Gentleman's point about Mr. Kalejs makes my point about Secretaries of States and courts having to act according to the rule of law, both national and international. The simple fact, as everybody knows, was that no extradition warrant had been received in respect of Kalejs.

Dr. Lewis

Arrest him?

Mr. Straw

Although I am endowed with some powers, I do not have powers of arrest, except in very marginal circumstances relating to immigration offences when we wish people to leave the country and they refuse to do so. As Kalejs left voluntarily, there was no power whatever to detain the man. That is the truth of it. I had the matter examined with very great care. I do not know which researcher the hon. Gentleman is talking about, but we were in contact with a number of researchers, and I was in contact with representatives of the Jewish community.

Of course I understand the demand that if people are alleged to have committed serious crimes, however long ago that may have been and whatever the country, they should be brought to justice. I see it as part of my responsibility to ensure that that happens, but it has to happen within a framework of the rule of law.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The Home Secretary is a candid and reflective person. With the huge benefit of hindsight, is there anything at any stage that he would have done differently?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I have certain wishes, and have already expressed the thought that it would be in everyone's interest if the procedure for extradition were simplified both in high profile cases such as this one and in more routine cases. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say of the key decisions that I have taken—the original decision not to quash the extradition warrant, two successive authorities to proceed, the decision to ask for independent medical examination and the decision I have announced today—that I would not have taken any of them differently.