HL Deb 08 January 2003 vol 642 cc1019-21

3.10 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they retain responsibility for the observance of international law and conventions on Diego Garcia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, yes.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that the Government are fully briefed on the conditions under which the United States is keeping prisoners from the Taliban on Diego Garcia in view of the serious allegations made in the Washington Post and the Herald Tribune on 27th December? The United States is, at the very least, steering close to the wind as regards the Geneva Convention and other aspects of international law. This is sovereign British territory and therefore, as I understand it and as the Minister has confirmed, the British Government are responsible for ensuring that international law is fully observed.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am aware of the stories in the press. Those stories are entirely without foundation. The United States Government would need to ask for our permission to bring any suspects to Diego Garcia. They have not done so and no suspected terrorists are being held on Diego Garcia.

Lord Judd

My Lords, will my noble friend take this opportunity to reaffirm the Government's position that, in everything we are doing in pursuing Al'Qaeda, the way we do so manifests the kind of society that we are trying to protect against international terrorism? Will she also reaffirm that abuse of prisoners and torture have no place anywhere within such a strategy?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am pleased to agree with my noble friend. We as a government have made it absolutely clear that we shall do everything we can to fight international terrorism. We have also made it absolutely clear that we shall apply all the relevant rules of international law.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, having declared an interest in the International Criminal Court Act—and I thank the noble Baroness for the assurance that the reports in certain American papers are not well-founded—what human rights are accorded to terrorists and to prisoners of war on Diego Garcia and how is such distinction drawn, as the United States has declined to ratify the statute?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I repeat that the stories which have appeared in the press are completely without foundation. The Unites States Government would need to ask our permission to bring suspects to Diego Garcia and they have not done so. No suspected terrorists are being held on Diego Garcia and, under current British Indian Ocean Territory law, there would be no authority for the detention of Al'Qaeda suspects in the territory.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there was a recent parliamentary delegation to Mauritius? There is tension between Mauritius and Her Majesty's Government over the Chagos Islands of which Diego Garcia is part. The Chagos islanders are not able to visit the graves of their relatives, even though we suggested that the Americans could use their helicopters to fly them in, including to Diego Garcia, without any security risks. Is it not important that we are seen to be like Caesar's wife on this issue, or there will be other consequences?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am of course aware of the concerns of the Chagos islanders and their wish to go back to Diego Garcia. I have been involved in discussions on that matter. We have consulted the United States, as we have a responsibility to do so under the treaties we have signed with the US. The US has not given agreement to this but we have agreed that there could be a return. We chartered a vessel but, unfortunately, it was not made available. We are happy to reinstate any such visit but it would not include Diego Garcia because of the reluctance of the US Government.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, will the Minister confirm whether the United States holds prisoners of any kind on Diego Garcia? Perhaps I may ask a related question. Do the Government continue to make representations to the United States about the number of British citizens held under similar conditions in Guantánamo Bay?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can confirm that we continue to make representations with respect to Guantánamo Bay. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken on a number of occasions to Secretary of State Powell about that issue. I am not aware of any requests having been made to the British Government about any prisoners being held on Diego Garcia, and I am not aware of any prisoners being held on Diego Garcia.