HL Deb 06 July 2004 vol 663 cc665-8

3.8 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What response they propose to make to the submission to them from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York on the treatment of Iraqi detainees by coalition forces.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, the letter from the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York was addressed to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. That letter was intended to be private. My right honourable friend has replied by letter recently. The reply, as was the intention with the original letter, is private.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply so far as it goes. Were not the most reverend Primates absolutely right to state that the happenings in Abu Ghraib prison severely undermined the moral authority of the West? Is it not therefore very important that the forthcoming trials of former members of the Iraqi regime are not also a political own goal? Was it not therefore disappointing that in the court proceedings last week Americans ran the proceedings, the only civilians in the court were American soldiers dressed as civilians, the defendants had no legal representation, and most astonishingly of all, the transcript of the court proceedings was censored by the American military? Is it not essential that these trials should be credible and not just a staged event?

Lord Bach

My Lords, of course, we understand the concern that has been expressed, including by senior clergy in the Church of England, about the alleged abuses of detainees in Iraq. The House will know that we take extremely seriously any allegations that are made against United Kingdom Armed Forces, and we investigate them. Eighteen investigations have been initiated relating to individuals detained by our Armed Forces, but only one of those relates to an incident at a formal detention facility. I want to make it clear that there is absolutely no evidence of systematic human rights abuses by UK forces either at detention centres or elsewhere.

The noble Lord referred to the arraignment of Saddam Hussein on 1 July. He, of course, is now held as a criminal suspect. There did not appear to us to be anything wrong with the hearing that took place on 1 July.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, the Minister will know that the American Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld, published 24 interrogation techniques which had been applied to prisoners in Guantanamo. Senior people from Guantanamo went to Iraq. Is there a similar list of interrogation techniques published by this country, or available to be published by this country, and, if so, will the Government kindly publish it? It will be appreciated that Mr Rumsfeld admitted that four of the interrogation techniques employed were not in accordance with international standards or with the Geneva Convention.

Lord Bach

My Lords, Guantanamo is rather wide of the Question, which specifically concerns the letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York. I am not in a position today to comment in any detail on Guantanamo. However, the investigative methods used by UK troops and police are absolutely in accordance with the Geneva Convention. There is absolutely no question that any of those proceedings are carried out in a way that would be unacceptable to the noble Lord.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, is the Minister aware that while the two Archbishops wrote a letter that was not intended for publication, they wrote on behalf of, and with the encouragement of, their fellow Church of England bishops about a range of issues relating to Iraq and the Middle East, many of which have also been raised on these Benches on previous occasions? Is the Minister also aware that the priority of the letter was to promote a secure understanding of the importance of respect for human dignity, the rule of law and the indivisibility of religious freedom?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his questions. We are very aware of the spirit in which that correspondence took place. It was written after a meeting of bishops. It is unfortunate that somehow or other that letter managed to find its way into the public domain, but it did and that is the fact of the matter. The more important part of the right reverend Prelate's question concerns the issues of moral authority that he raises. We agree that the matters that were raised in the letter were of great importance and significance.

We agree also, so far as the Middle East is concerned— in particular because the letter referred to the Middle East in terms— that the road map is the best route towards a negotiated settlement but that both parties have to do more to fulfil their commitments. Israel must freeze all settlement activity and reroute the barrier away from the Occupied Territories, and the Palestinian Authority in its turn must act decisively against perpetrators of terrorist acts. To that extent we entirely agree with the contents of the letter.

Lord Richard

My Lords—

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, might it not be a good idea to look back to 1973 to the Compton inquiry into the ill treatment of detainees in Northern Ireland? It is most informative and relevant to the subject under discussion.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. We shall certainly take on board his suggestion.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, while all abuse of detainees and prisoners is absolutely disgraceful— the Archbishops are right to be concerned about it— and should be investigated properly and thoroughly, as I believe is being done, does the Minister agree that that in no way typifies the very dangerous and difficult work undertaken by the British Armed Forces in Iraq in carrying out their daily programmes and operations, and that they deserve full, continuous and repeated support from all quarters?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. Of course, I agree with him completely. Our Armed Forces have done, and continue to do, an outstanding job in southern Iraq. The House may be interested to know that more than 55,000 servicemen and servicewomen have served in Iraq and that a tiny, tiny minority is alleged to have been involved in incidents involving the ill treatment of Iraqi civilians. A number of those have already been cleared of any wrongdoing. It is important not to exaggerate the numbers, as has been done in some cases, and to realise, as the noble Lord suggests, that what our Armed Forces have done in Iraq is, frankly, to get rid of the tyrant, Saddam Hussein, and give that country a chance to enjoy peace and democracy.