HC Deb 01 July 2004 vol 423 cc434-6
20. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab)

What recent discussions she has had with her counterparts in the United States concerning the fate of UK citizens held in Guantanamo bay. [81617]

The Solicitor-General

The Attorney-General last had discussions with his counterparts in the US about Guantanomo bay in February 2004. Following discussions with the US led by the Attorney-General, the UK Government concluded on the basis of his views that the US military commission process would not provide sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards. The UK Government's position remains that the British detainees should either be tried fairly in accordance with international standards or be returned to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Prentice

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her reply. In a landmark decision, the American Supreme Court said that the detainees can challenge their detention without trial in Guantanamo bay in the United States courts. Will the British Government act on behalf of the four UK citizens and take their case to the American courts?

The Solicitor-General

We are not yet aware whether or not any applications have been made on behalf of the British detainees. As for the US Supreme Court judgment, it was very recent and we are considering its implications.

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

May I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice)? He is entirely right—unless the British Government rally round and give the detainees assistance in Supreme Court proceedings or elsewhere the relief will be fairly lame, so I hope that the Solicitor-General listens sympathetically to the hon. Gentleman.

The Solicitor-General

The House has heard the points made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), and those matters are all under active consideration. If there is something to be announced, it will be announced, but I cannot say anything other than that the matter is under consideration.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon) (LD)

But that is simply not good enough. So much time has elapsed, and those people have been unlawfully detained for an extremely long time. We want to know what action the Attorney-General will take. He made his views known last week in a speech at the Cour de Cassation, and was right to say: Any restriction on fundamental rights must be imposed in accordance with the rule of law. He went on to criticise the proposed military tribunals at Guantanamo bay. Action is now called for, and we must know what he is doing. The House would also like to know whether he believes that the detainees are entitled to damages for unlawful imprisonment compounded by a lack of fair representation and a fair trial.

The Solicitor-General

Perhaps I can just step back, as I know the whole House appreciates the Attorney-General satisfying himself as to whether or not the way in which the US authorities plan to deal with the British citizens detained in Guantanamo bay accords with international law. It wanted him to make that decision impartially on the evidence in the case and give his advice clearly and straightforwardly. I am sure that it appreciates the fact that, as he formed the view that the proposals for dealing with the detainees did not comply with international law, attempts have been made to negotiate with the US authorities to persuade them to change the way in which they intend to deal with the detainees so that they are treated in accordance with international law. Progress was made and at least five detainees were released. I know that the whole House welcomes that.

I know the House would also agree that pressure should continue to be exerted on the US authorities to try and resolve the position of the remaining four detainees and that we should remain clear about our position, which we have done. In the meantime, I know the House welcomes the fact that consular activity has ensured that close contact has been kept with the detainees. We try to maintain contact and support them.

At the end of the day, they are being held by the US authorities. We have said that we are not satisfied with that and we keep further action under review.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con)

Does the Solicitor-General agree that in the context of a trial by a military tribunal, it ought to be possible for such a trial to take place in compliance with international standards, including independent representation, an independent element on the tribunal, proper procedure and a proper ability to assess evidence? Those standards are common to our common law jurisdiction and that of the United States. Have the US Government advanced any argument to explain why they cannot meet those minimum standards in the type of tribunal that they want to set up?

The Solicitor-General

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we have made it clear to the US authorities what we consider the international standards to be. They have net been prepared to accede to that. They have, however been prepared to suspend bringing the UK detainees before the military commission because of our strong representations to the effect that we did not consider them to be guaranteeing a fair trial in accordance with international law. There is no difference on that between any of us in the House. The Government and the Attorney-General have made their position clear, but at the end of the day we have to persuade the US authorities to return the detainees if they are unprepared as at present they appear to be, to afford them a fair trial according to international standards.