HC Deb 24 February 2004 vol 418 cc141-53 12.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs(Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the British citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay.

Agreement with the United States Government on the return of five of the nine UK detainees was reached on Thursday last, 19 February. Although the House was in recess, I judged that it was only fair to the families of all nine detainees that they should be informed immediately. We therefore made every effort to contact the families and their parliamentary representatives, and I made a public announcement late on Thursday afternoon. I could not report to the House yesterday, as I had to attend a European Union General Affairs Council in Brussels.

The attacks of 11 September 2001 were the most appalling terrorist atrocity the world has ever seen. The terrorists killed more than 3,000 people, including 67 British citizens. In response to those attacks, a coalition of countries came together to launch a military campaign against al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters to remove them from their strongholds in Afghanistan.

In those operations, thousands of individuals believed to be al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters, or their supporters, were detained by coalition forces. The vast majority of those individuals were released, but those who were deemed to pose a substantial risk of returning to the conflict—to date about 800—were sent by the United States to its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, there to be detained and to be questioned about their knowledge of al-Qaeda's activities. As a result, valuable information has been gained, which has helped to protect the international community from further al-Qaeda and related terrorist attacks.

The Government have been in frequent and regular contact with the United States authorities concerning the British detainees at Guantanamo Bay. From the outset, the British Government have sought to ensure their welfare and have actively encouraged the US Government to resolve the position of the British detainees. British officials have visited Guantanamo Bay six times. We have kept the detainees' families and Parliament informed of their circumstances and of other related developments.

In July 2003, two of the British detainees were designated by the United States authorities as eligible to stand trial by the United States military commissions established to prosecute the detainees. The British Government made it clear straight away that we had concerns about the military commission process. Consequently, the Prime Minister asked the Attorney-General to discuss with the United States authorities how the detainees, if prosecuted, could be assured of fair trials that met international standards.

The Attorney-General therefore held a number of discussions with the United States authorities about the future of the detainees. In parallel, the Prime Minister has talked to President Bush; I have discussed the matter on many occasions with US Secretary of State Colin Powell; and extensive discussions have been held between British and United States Government lawyers and officials.

Those discussions have involved many complex issues of law and security, which both Governments have had to consider carefully. Although the discussions have made significant progress, the Attorney-General's view was that the military commissions as presently constituted would not provide the process that we would afford British nationals.

Our discussions with the United States authorities are continuing. In the meantime, as I announced last Thursday, we agreed that five of the British detainees would return to the United Kingdom. The five are Rhuhel Ahmed, Tarek Dergoul, Jamal al-Harith, Asif lqbal and Shafiq Rasul. Those men will be flown home to the United Kingdom in the next few weeks. The House will understand that it would not be right to disclose the operational details at this stage. The police have, however, established links with the families so that they can be informed of developments.

The police have confirmed that, once the detainees are back in the United Kingdom, where there are grounds under the provisions of the legislation, the five men may be arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 for questioning in connection with possible terrorist activity. Any subsequient action will be a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It would therefore not be appropriate to comment further on their particular cases, but I should like to emphasise two points.

First, the police have said that they are investigating all the detainees thoroughly and individually, in the normal way, which includes considering the circumstances that led to the men's detention. Every necessary step, including prosecution if appropriate, will be taken to protect national security. Secondly, the detainees will be treated in the same way as anyone else suspected of committing a criminal offence and, obviously, in accordance with UK law. Our processes have built-in safeguards and are subject to independent scrutiny to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly and properly. Those processes include access to lawyers.

We shall continue our discussions with the United States authorities on the situation of the other four British detainees. They are Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga. There are a range of security and other issues that we and the Americans are considering in respect of those four men. As a result of our talks, US legal proceedings against Mr. Abbasi and Mr. Begg were suspended in July and the US said that the men would not be subject to the death penalty. That remains the case.

Our overall position remains that the detainees should be either tried in accordance with international standards or returned to the United Kingdom. We shall continue to work to resolve their positions, and I will, of course, keep the House informed.

The Government remain determined to work with our allies around the world to defeat the scourge of global terrorism. Terrorism seeks to deny the most basic of human rights—to life,to security and the right to go about our daily business free from threat and harm. We will continue resolutely to defend those rights through a robust and determined approach to combating terrorism and its networks of support wherever they are to be found.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con)

May I start by thanking the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for early sight of it?

The Conservative party welcomes the fact that some progress has now been made— after two years—in resolving the prolonged incarceration of five of the nine British detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, but does the Foreign Secretary accept that his statement today raises as many questions as it answers?

Although we recognise the uniqueness of their interim status as unlawful combatants, we have consistently called for the British detainees to be subjected to due process, rather than being held in a legal limbo land. They should be either brought back to this country to face a fair trial, or if there is no evidence of wrongdoing against them, set free. Although we obviously assert that national security has the highest priority, we do not believe that to be inconsistent with a proper and timely assessment of each case and a consequent decision to prosecute or release.

Given the strength of the relationship between the British and US Governments, can the Foreign Secretary explain why it has taken nearly two years to get this far? Does he now accept that one of the reasons why that stalemate has taken so long to overcome has been the failure of the British Government to make a clear decision on how to treat the detainees in this country on their return? Can he tell us what the difference is between those who are to be released and those who are not? Does he believe that the four who will remain constitute a threat to national security, and how much longer is it likely to take until their future is resolved? Is it now likely that they will face trial before one of the military commissions that the US seems to favour? Given what the Foreign Secretary said about the advice that the Attorney-General has given, what will be the Government's response if that is the case?

The Home Secretary, in one of his now infamous preemptive judgments on innocence and guilt, informed the world's media that none of the five who are to be released represents a security threat to the British people. Does the Foreign Secretary agree? Given that we are talking about individuals who more than two years ago left this country to go to Pakistan or Afghanistan—allegedly to explore the possibility of fighting alongside the Taliban and/or al-Qaeda against British interests—how does the Home Secretary know that they will now pose no such threat? If proceedings are to be brought against one or more of the released detainees in this country, how will the Home Secretary's comments help them to obtain a fair trial?

The Foreign Secretary said that on the detainees' return, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service would look at each case dispassionately to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to place a person on trial in this country. Will he confirm that evidence obtained from the detainees during their time in Camp Delta will be made available to the police and the CPS to help them to assess the case for a fair trial? Has he received any legal advice on admissibility and, if so, will he place a copy in the House of Commons Library? Will he confirm whether the Attorney-General has actively considered whether, if the evidence so provides, an action for treason could be brought against any of the released detainees? Will the Foreign Secretary say a little more about the circumstances in which the five will be held in the UK on their return? Will they be at liberty to return to their homes, or will they be held in custody—if so, on what basis?

We strongly support all measures to protect our national security, but this country rightly prides itself as a true champion of the rule of law and the rights of the individual. In the Government's continued handling of the nine Britons currently in Guantanamo Bay, the whole nation will rightly expect them to uphold those enduring British principles.

Mr. Straw

I rather got the impression that the hon. Gentleman was agreeing with the position taken by the British Government, but that he then had to invent several differences to nuance his position compared with ours. The context of the detentions was well illustrated by one word that he used: he said that the detainees' position was "unique". Let us be clear that 11 September 2001 was not only absolutely terrifying, but unique due to the nature of the threat that it posed and because it exposed western democracies and the whole of the civilised world to threats of a kind that we had never previously had or properly anticipated. That creates the context in which those people and the other detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been held.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the difference between those who are to be released and those who will remain in Guantanamo Bay. I do not wish to prejudice in any way the positions of either, except to say that there have been fewer difficulties with negotiations in respect of those who are to be released than of those who will be detained.

The hon. Gentleman asks whether the individuals will pose a security threat. That is a matter for the police, in the first instance, acting under powers that they have generally and also under powers that the House recently gave them through the Terrorism Act 2000, as amended. As I made clear in my statement, the police have it open to them to detain and interview the individuals when they arrive. There is a short time for which they may be detained at the behest of the police, and a longer period—up to a total of 14 days—if that is approved by the court on application. Any further question of proceedings will be a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the admissibility of evidence. One does not need advice from the Attorney-General about rules on evidence in the British courts because they are available to anyone who cares to read them, and well understood. I did not ask for that advice, and neither did I receive it, because I did not need it.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the hare that has been running about charges of treason against these individuals. As with any other charge against them, that is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service, and I think in respect of treason it is also a matter for the Attorney-General. I merely place on record that I think the last time there was a successful prosecution for treason was getting on for 60 years ago, against Lord Haw Haw.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)

The Foreign Secretary is entitled to claim that his announcements today and last week are evidence of progress, but not a solution. So far, the Government have, with some success, put their trust in patient diplomacy, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary will not rule out rightful indignation if that becomes necessary, because if the situations were reversed and the United Kingdom proposed to deal with American citizens by way of military commissions, without due process, the outcry from the White House and from Capitol Hill would be prolonged and deafening, and rightly so.

The Foreign Secretary says that it is not appropriate to comment on individual cases, and as a matter of principle, of course he is correct. When the Home Secretary said that the five being released were no threat, did that represent the considered view of the Government? Even if the Foreign Secretary is unwilling—or perhaps, more correctly, unable—to answer that, does he accept that it raises very sharply this question: if they are no threat, why have they been incarcerated for so long?

Finally, if the United States Government persist in putting United Kingdom citizens on trial in circumstances unacceptable to the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, Parliament and the British public, what then is the Government's solution?

Mr. Straw

First. I accept that we have made progress but have not resolved this matter. As I made clear, and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear, we want those individuals to be subject to a trial that meets internationally accepted norms and standards, or we want them brought home. That applies to all nine, regardless of the allegations against them, and not just to the five.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman commented on patient diplomacy. I believe that that is the way to resolve these matters. The House is very alert, as it should be, to our standards of justice, as I have to say generally the Americans are, too, but we have to take account of the context in which the detentions took place. That context was that a terrorist organisation of a sophistication and ruthlessness never previously seen in our history, and without any political programme with which one could negotiate, decided effectively to start a war, not just against the United States, but against the whole of the civilised world. Although colleagues may not necessarily agree with the approach of the United States, it is understandable that it has taken the action that it has. Our discussions with the United States Government have borne fruit so far with progress, but not with a solution.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I think that my right hon. Friend sought to clarify those remarks on the radio this morning, when he pointed out that he was talking about what in his judgment had been assessed so far as regards the past, and that he was not seeking to make a judgment about decisions by the prosecuting authorities or the police on the arrival of those concerned.

Finally, the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what would happen if those people were put on trial under unacceptable conditions. I hope that we do not come to those circumstances, because we have made it clear that we believe that any British citizen—we believe this generally, but I am speaking now of our immediate responsibilities—should be tried only by internationally accepted standards and norms.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central) Lab)

I very much welcome my right I hon. Friend's statement and his previous statement, and the efforts of the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister to ensure both a fair trial for, and the return of, British detainees, while guarding our national security.

My constituent, Feroz Abbasi, will not be sent home. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the reason is perceived risks to the public interest, based on intelligence reports? If that is the case, does my right hon. Friend accept that new powers available to the Government to protect people under the Terrorism Act 2000 and, indeed, the Anti-terrorism. Crime and Security Act 2001, mean that if Feroz Abbasi were on the street and put a foot wrong by association or sympathy, whether direct or indirect, with future or past terrorist acts through, for instance, a phone call or wearing a badge, he could immediately be arrested, charged and imprisoned? If he were released, he would be better off, as would the other detainees, writing his memoirs of Guantanamo Bay. That would be much more in his interest and that of al-Qaeda than posing a future risk to the British public.

Mr. Straw

I should like to applaud the assiduous way in which my hon. Friend has sought to represent the interests of his constituent and his family, who are understandably concerned about Mr. Abbasi's future. As I have already told the House, I am not going to offer views about the perceived risks posed by any of the individuals concerned because, by definition, that could have the effect of prejudicing future proceedings. As for new powers under terrorism legislation, the Terrorism Act 2000, which I introduced as Home Secretary, strengthened police powers, and legislation passed in 2001 by the Commons and the House of Lords has strengthened them further. However, to make a general point to my hon. Friend without specific reference to the detainees, those powers apply only where the police have evidence against individuals. It is the nature of terrorists, even more than ordinary criminals, to go to the most extensive lengths to avoid detection, not just at the point of committing acts of terrorism but prior to that by avoiding coming to the notice of the intelligence community. That is a basic challenge that the intelligence community and the police face in fighting terrorism.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD)

My constituent, Martin Mubanga, is one, of the four remaining detainees in Guantanomo Bay, and I met his family last night. Is the Minister aware of their distress? They have had no information about why he was detained, they have received very few letters, and those that they have received have been censored. Indeed, they have received no information at all about his basic well-being since the Foreign Office visited in September, and their pain has been compounded by the welcome; homecoming of the initial five. Most damningly, perhaps, they told me that they find it easier to get information about their son's well-being and his case from the newspapers than from the Foreign Office, which is worrying. What are the Government doing to ensure that families such as Mr. Mubanga's receive basic information about their relatives' well-being? Can letters be transmitted to the family, and can basic information about why Mr. Mubanga was detained be made available to the family ahead of the newspapers?

Mr. Straw

Of course I understand the families' distress. As negotiations reached a final stage last Wednesday and Thursday, I was all too conscious of the fact that five sets of families and a wider group of relatives and friends would be very pleased about the announcement, but that four sets would be distressed. It was for that reason, among many others, that I ensured, as far as was humanly possible, that the families and the Members representing them were contacted before I made a public announcement.

I entirely resist the criticism that the hon. Lady made at the end of her remarks, when she sought to criticise either me, as the person responsible, or my officials. Foreign Office staff have made every effort to pass on in detail information to the families as soon as it arrives, and we will continue to do so. It has not been sufficient, but we have had more contact with our detainees than, as I understand it, any other Governments have had with their nationals who are detained.

The issue of letters is one of concern, and we will continue to take it up through the International Committee of the Red Cross. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss further what other measures we can take.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Coop)

May I reiterate our thanks to the Foreign Secretary for his efforts to secure the release of the five detainees, three of whom are from my constituency? I thank him, too, for informing the families beforehand, as that was very much appreciated.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments that on their return the detainees will undergo a thorough police investigation and that any subsequent trial will conform with internationally accepted standards of justice. That is necessary both to reassure the public in this country and to give the detainees an opportunity to answer properly any charges against them.

My right hon. Friend will be aware, however, of the acute anxiety that the families have experienced over the past two years. They are obviously desperate to see their relatives again. Can he assure me that every effort will be made to keep the families informed at every stage of the proceedings, and that they will have the earliest possible access to their relatives, commensurate with national security?

Mr. Straw

I commend my hon. Friend for all his efforts on behalf of Mr. Ahmed, Mr. Iqbal and Mr. Rasul, who were resident in his constituency. He, too, has been careful and assiduous in his representation of those individuals, who are three of the five to be released. As I told the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), of course I understand the distress and anxiety of the families. It would be astonishing if they were not distressed and anxious about their loved ones in the circumstances. That is why we have made every effort to maintain welfare visits to the individuals and keep the families informed.

As for the future, there will be a period before the releases. I am sorry, but I cannot say exactly when they will take place. I said on Thursday, and it remains the case, that they will take place within a few weeks. Within that time scale, I hope that it is sooner rather than later. As information becomes available and we can release it, we will make it available to the families first.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that I am a long-term friend and admirer of the United States, a country with which I have close family ties. However, I regard the detention and treatment of the detainees in the Guantanamo Bay camp as a lamentable departure from the rule of law and wholly inconsistent with the fine traditions of the United States. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that view is widely shared in this country and, if he does, will he ensure that the United States Administration understand that and recognise the damage that they are doing to their reputation?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's opinions on this matter are well known, and although such feelings are not nanimous—opinions differ greatly—I assure him that the United States Government are fully aware of the strength of opinion on the issue.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) Lab)

May I, too, pass on my thanks to the Foreign Secretary for the keen attention that he has given the matter over the past two years and his courtesy last week in making sure that the families and their Members of Parliament were informed? As he is aware, my constituent, Jamal al-Harith, is one of those who, happily, will be released, but I share concerns expressed by Members on both sides of the House about the events of the past two years and, indeed, the future facing the four who will not be released. Such action may be understandable in emotional terms, but it is not acceptable in terms of legal propriety. My constituent experienced a form of kidnap, and naturally the family were extremely unhappy about that.

I know that my right hon. Friend will not want to go into great detail, but there are issues about, for example, access to legal representatives, to the families, which is important, and perhaps to qualified medical staff. Can he assure me that those will be immediately available to individuals on their return to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about the way in which the matter has been handled. It is a difficult situation, and again I would like to put on record my appreciation for the way in which he has performed his duty in representing his constituent and his family.

My hon. Friend asked me about access to legal representation, the availability of qualified medical assistance and—a point that was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey)—access by families when they arrive here. The Terrorism Act 2000, as amended, provides powers to the police, where they have grounds for doing so, to detain terrorist suspects and to interview them for an initial period of two days, which can be extended, through successive applications to a court, to 14 days. However, as is absolutely right, subject to what is laid down in law, individuals have access to lawyers, as well as to their families. There are constraints on that, but they are the normal constraints for suspects who are suspected of any terrorist-related activity under the Terrorism Act, as amended.

On medical assistance, we shall make sure that that is available.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary is aware that there is also concern in American legal circles about the treatment of people in Guantanamo Bay. Some feel a sense of rage that within great democracies that generally obey the rule of law, individuals can be locked up for two years, during which time the authorities have been unable to formulate charges or the basis of a trial that would sustain itself in front of what we recognise as proper legal process.

Mr. Straw

I understand the hon. Gentleman. We must appreciate, however, that the United States saw itself as literally in a war situation—as, indeed, did the rest of the civilised world. In such situations, people are detained without trial. We did that ourselves during the last world war. These matters are difficult and uncomfortable, but they occur where civilisations and countries feel themselves to be under great threat. That is simply a reality.

That said, we have made progress in respect of the detainees, five of whom are being transferred to the United Kingdom to be dealt with in accordance with the normal processes of the law. I can promise the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will continue our efforts satisfactorily to resolve the position of the other four, although I cannot say when that will happen.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) Lab)

While I welcome the extremely belated forthcoming release of these men, is it not a fact that the United States has no jurisdiction whatever by which to have detained them, or anybody else, in Guantanamo Bay; that it is utterly characteristic of the Bush regime to behave in any manner that suits it, regardless of international law; and that my right hon. Friends must not allow this Government to be tainted by association with such conduct?

Mr. Straw

I understand my right hon. Friend's remarks, but he will forgive me if, in the interests of what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) described as patient diplomacy, I do not fully subscribe to them.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

As the Foreign Secretary rightly pointed out, nearly all the detainees were apprehended in the war zone, some were with armed groups, and some were actually putting at risk allied coalition soldiers. However, as the main coalition partner of the United States, surely this country could have been trusted to have the nine British detainees brought here in the first place. After all, in 1945 all French citizens fighting in German uniform, particularly those in SS units, were processed in France, not in Britain or America. There must be a lesson to be learned from that.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman echoes my point about war situations. However, what happened in France in 1945 took place after a war had finished. Let us be clear that so far as the United States is concerned—and us, too—this has been verging on a war situation with al-Qaeda and its related terrorist organisations. Let it not be forgotten that less than three months ago, at the end of November, both the British consulate general and the HSBC bank in Istanbul were bombed, with a severe: loss of life among British citizens and representatives, as well as Turkish citizens and others. That was a result of terrorism by al-Qaeda and its related organisations.

We are therefore in this very difficult, unique situation, and in such circumstances new measures are likely to be used. Our view is clear, and we have made it clear all the way through—it is that of course people should be detained in accordance with international law. The United States Government are clear in their own mind that there is a legal base for the detentions at Guantanamo Bay. Our position is also clear in that any trials that take place must take place in accordance with internationally accepted standards and norms.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although the United States accepts that there is a legal position for these people to be in Guantanamo Bay, no other country in the world accepts that situation? It has created a new class of people captured on the battlefield-unlawful combatants—that is not recognised in any of the international agreements.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that while he may find the attitude of the United States understandable, many of us find it, if understandable, unacceptable? The Government must vigorously pursue this important matter. Although I welcome the release of the five prisoners, it has taken us two years to free people who have been held with no legal status, contrary to all the rules of international behaviour.

Mr. Straw

Of course I understand, to use the same verb, the very strong feelings of my hon. Friend on this issue and the fact that he does not accept the position as described by the United States Government. There is a great debate about the international legal basis for the detentions at Guantanamo Bay. I simply remind the House that the situation was not unusual: it was unique. Therefore, it is not surprising if the conventions and treaties that are the basis of much international law did not anticipate such circumstances.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

I very much welcome the forthcoming repatriation of the five detainees in the next few weeks, which I suspect is to do with the possible involvement of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. One has to say, however, that if they did have any relevant information or evidence, surely it would have been elicited from them by now. Will the Foreign Secretary redouble his efforts to ensure that the United States is aware of the concern on this side of the pond about the other four detainees and the need for them either to be charged, to be put before a properly constituted court recognising international standards of law, or to be released? It is a disgraceful situation, because these men have already served the equivalent of a four-year sentence without trial.

Mr. Straw

The United States Government are very well aware of the strength of feeling of the British people—although that varies—and of the different strains and strands of that opinion. I have discussed the matter on numerous occasions with United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and with many others inside the United States system. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has discussed the matter on several occasions with President Bush and the United States Government. It has been discussed at every level between Governments. The United States Government are aware of the feeling that exists, and I am sure that they will become more aware of if when the contents of this statement and my answers are drawn to their attention.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

In order to keep a sense of balance, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should always bear in mind the shock that was felt throughout the whole of the United States—it was certainly not confined to President Bush and his circle—over the outrage on 9/11? On the Friday of that terrible week, I went to a huge demonstration in Philadelphia, where political views of all kinds were expressed over the terrible and wicked events that had occurred.

In welcoming what my right hon. Friend has said about the four detainees, is it not important for the United States to appreciate that those of us who do not minimise the dangers of terrorism, and who understand only too well the constant danger to all the democracies, remain very uneasy over the way in which these detainees, not only those who are British, are being held; and that domestic and international law should always be applied, even when it is dealing with those who are responsible for the most terrifying crimes against humanity?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend puts his view in a balanced and measured way.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD)

The Foreign Secretary should know from correspondence with me about the case of my constituent Mr. Bisher Al-Rawi who is detained in Guantanamo Bay. He had lived in the United Kingdom for 19 years, from when he was a child. His family are all British citizens but he holds an Iraqi passport. So far, the Foreign Office has refused to make any representations for Mr. Al-Rawi. Will the Foreign a Secretary reconsider that? Does he recall that Mr. Al-Rawi was not arrested as a combatant but detained while on a business trip to the Gambia? Given the unusual circumstances, is the Foreign Secretary prepared to meet me and the Al-Rawi family to ascertain how the UK Government could assist my constituent?

Mr. Straw

I am happy to see the hon. Gentleman. There are five individuals in Guantanamo Bay who are not British citizens but were British residents before their detention, and his constituent is one of them. Their legal position is difficult. We simply do not have a right in international law to make representations on behalf of those who are not British citizens. That is standard and accepted practice. [Interruption.] Well, that is the case. Although I understand the point that is being shouted at me from a sedentary position, I have outlined what happens to be the case. That standard is accepted in all diplomatic relations. However, some organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, may be able to help. I am willing to meet the hon. Gentleman and, following that meeting, to decide what further action we can take.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) Lab)

Extreme forms of terrorism pose a serious and complex problem to democratic societies. To impress on the United States the dangers of its Guantanamo Bay policy, will my right hon. Friend remind that country that, in the 1970s, as a good friend of this country, it warned us of the dangers of internment in Northern Ireland? It was right to warn us then and we are right to warn it now.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend makes an interesting and nice point.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con)

A moment ago, the Foreign Secretary prayed in aid the internments that took place at the beginning of the second world war. They were subsequently widely held to have been a mistake both in the United States, where Japanese were detained, and the United Kingdom. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman keeps that point in mind when he talks to his American counterparts.

Have the Government assessed the effect of Guantanamo Bay on global public opinion and the damage that it does to the values that we are seeking to export? Will the Foreign Secretary state unequivocally that the Government consider Guantanamo Bay to be contrary to international law? What representations to that effect has he made to the United States Administration?

Mr. Straw

I made the point about internments in the second world war to remind the House that in war situations—and quasi-war situations—otherwise unacceptable and uncomfortable measures sometimes have to be taken. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that the internments in the second world war were later regarded as a mistake. That is true of their scale but not necessarily of everybody who was detained. However, I put that to one side. I simply wanted to bring out the point that we must better understand why the United States felt it necessary to take such action.

Let us be clear: the information that has been obtained from a good many detainees in Guantanamo Bay has helped to make the world a safer place—safer for us and our constituents as well as for the United States and those in other countries. That is the position.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan) Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the detention of 2,000 prisoners for two years without trial cannot be justified or condoned in any circumstances? Does he also agree that the imprisonment for 14 months of three Afghan children, who were afterwards given one football each as a gesture, is a blatant violation of international law?

Mr. Straw

I am afraid that I have not had sight of the case of the detention of the three Afghan children. I am happy to follow it up with my hon. Friend.

On the wider question, it is obvious that the sentiment of the House is as stated. It is similar to that of the Government: individuals who are detained should either be brought to trial in accordance with internationally accepted standards or returned, in this case to the United Kingdom. We shall continue to follow that policy.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) Lab)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Attorney-General on all their efforts behind the scenes to achieve the result so far. However, there is considerable disquiet about the four young lads from Tipton and separate arrests in my constituency under the Terrorism Act 2000. The majority sentiment—a view that I share—is that when offences have been committed, people have to account for them. However, given the disquiet, will my right hon. Friend talk to colleagues so that decisions can be made and resources allocated to enable the police and the prosecution authorities to fast-track those cases if there are to be proceedings under the Terrorism Act against the returnees and more generally?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his thanks and I shall ensure that they are drawn to the attention of the Attorney-General, who has played an important part.

Of course, there will always be concern among those who are arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and their families about their nature of their arrests, but the Act was approved in the House four years ago on an all-party basis because of the emerging threat that we assessed. Prevention of terrorism legislation at the time was defective because it was only effective in protecting our communities against Irish terrorism, not the new forms of international terrorism. Individuals suspected of terrorism correctly have clear rights under the legislation.

I accept my hon. and learned Friend's point about resources. If the individuals come back and are subject to prosecution, it would be reasonable for their cases to be fast-tracked, given the lengthy detention that they have already had to endure. I will draw that suggestion to the Attorney-General's attention.