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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government have long made plain that they will act in conformity with international law. The taking of prisoners of war is a recognised and legitimate means of reducing an enemy's strength and fighting capacity. Iraqi military personnel who fall into the hands of United Kingdom forces are prisoners of war and therefore will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am most grateful for that reply from the Minister. However, perhaps I may ask him about the position of those who are known as "unlawful combatants" and who may be paramilitaries of one form or another. Does the Minister agree that those people fall under Article 5 of the third Geneva Convention, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory, and should therefore, as in the first Gulf War, be brought before a competent tribunal to determine their status? Can the Minister assure us that neither POWs nor this group of people will in any circumstances be sent to Guantanamo Bay?
Lord Bach: My Lords, if such people are taken into the custody of the United Kingdom forces, they will be treated under the terms of humanitarian law and will of course be looked after both humanely and safely. If they are passed on to another coalition partnerfor example, the United Statesto be guarded, then an arrangement is in place between the coalition forces that the following will happen. First, there will be no transfer outside the borders of Iraq without the consent of the detaining power, which will in those circumstances be the United Kingdom. Secondly, jurisdiction will be exclusive to the detaining powerat least for events that occurred before their first detention. Thirdly, as the noble Baroness suggests, where there is any doubt about their statussometimes there may be no doubt about it either waythe United Kingdom may well have to convene tribunals.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many Iraqi prisoners of war are being detained by British forces and how long it will take to process them and to record their relevant details in accordance with the Geneva Conventions? In addition, how many British troops are required to guard and protect them and what amount of food, water and medical supplies are allocated to them in accordance with the Geneva Conventions?
We are processing the prisoners as fast as possible; the Red Crescent is content with the action that we are taking in that regard. Prisoners are of course being given sufficient food, water and access to the medical facilities that they require.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I am sure that all views about the war, whether favourable or critical, converge in pressing for every aspect of the Geneva Convention to be applied. Does the Minister agree that it is vital at this stage of the war that we are seen to be applying every aspect of the convention to all prisoners of war, regardless of various grey shades of identity? Does he further agree that the recent response of the Secretary of State for Defence to a question on "Newsnight"
Lord Bach: My Lords, with great respect to the right reverend Prelate, I do not agree that that is unsatisfactory. We are still considering the issues concerning prisoners of war and others; that needs extremely delicate handling. Of course, if they are within our jurisdiction, as it were, they will remain so and we will make the decisions about them.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me that opportunity. It is clear that the response that I gave did not contain the right figure; there was confusion about that. As soon as that came to my notice, I wrote to the relevant Front-Benchers on all sides of the House, and to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and placed a copy in the Library of the House containing the true figures. I apologise for having given that figure last Thursday but, of course, the figures change every day.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am delighted that that question has been asked, because it is one matter about which the Iraqi regime has been asked ever since the first Gulf War ended. I believe that there are 600 Kuwaiti prisoners whose whereabouts are completely
Lord Monson: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it would be contrary to international law for coalition forces to imprison unarmed civilians merely because they happen to belong to a certain political party?
Lord Bach: My Lords, merely because they happen to belong to a particular political party? Yes, of course that would be unlawful. But we have the power to capture and detain combatants and others who pose a direct threat to United Kingdom forces or whose continued liberty poses a threat to our overall mission. If one or other of those requirements is met, we are entitled under international law to detain them.
The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the Government have made clear the importance that we attach to full parliamentary consultation on the conclusions of the Convention on the Future of Europe before the start of the intergovernmental conference. We expect the convention to conclude in June, as mandated, but the date of the IGC is not yet decided. The Government have made clear that any dates for the IGC must allow for proper and substantial parliamentary discussion of the issues and full participation of the accession states.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. It occurred to me when she commented last week that the convention will end at the end of June, that the intergovernmental conference is likely to start at the end of September and that that does not provide an especially convenient intervening space for full consultation with national parliaments.
Given that the Prime Minister himself has made clear on several occasions that the role of national parliaments in the European Union is one of the issues in the convention to which we attach most importance, can we ensure by one means or anotherwith time made available and the appropriate documents and government proposals published for discussion in both Chambers of this Parliamentfor full consultation to be provided between the end of the convention and whenever the start of the IGC is agreed to be?
Nothing has been decided and no dates have been alighted on as suitable. I am acutely aware of the concerns in this House, which I am sure reflect concerns in another place, that proper time must be allowed for the substantial and proper parliamentary discussion to which I referred.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, have not recent events in EuropeI know that the Minister has such great love for the behaviour of her French and German counterparts recentlymade the plans drawn up by the European convention a matter of fairy stories rather than of the future?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I indeed have great affection for our friends in France and GermanyI thank the noble Earl for remarking on it. As your Lordships discussed in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, last week, several extensive issues, such as economic governance, legal personality and how we can go forward on the common foreign and security policy and the European security and defence policy, are involved. They are all important and need to be resolved.
The point is that your Lordships and another place should have a proper opportunity to discuss them at the conclusion of the convention, at the end of June, and before the beginning of the IGC, which is when decisions will be taken in the European Union on the basis of unanimity.
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