Use of Torture Overseas

20th May 2019

Urgent Question on the Ministry of Defence’s policy on co-operating with the use of torture overseas.

Surely my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) has done the House a big service in securing this urgent question because it touches on the reputation of our country.

You, Mr Speaker, will remember that on 2 July 2018 my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) led Members from both sides of the House in asking for a judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture, and the Government promised to update the House within 60 days. Now, it is day 323 and, in spite of that promise the House has not been given the explanation it requires.

Last Friday, the United Nations Committee Against Torture called on the UK

“to establish without further delay an inquiry on alleged acts of torture and other ill treatment of detainees held overseas committed by, at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of British officials.”

Given Britain’s leadership at the United Nations, it is a very sad day when the UN has felt it necessary to pass such a motion. I urge the Government to deliver on their promise to the House and come back on the issue of a judicial inquiry. As I say, it was promised within 60 days and we are now on day 323.

My right hon. Friend raises some important points. Although I completely agree with what has been said by everyone who has spoken so far, it is right to point out that we hold our armed forces, and the agencies that work with them, to high standards —we hold them all to high standards. We understand why that is important, we understand why people must be compliant and we understand why there must be accountability and transparency in these policies not just on matters of intelligence but in targeting them to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

Part of the reason we are grappling with the issue of “lawfare” is that we want to uphold the primacy of international humanitarian law. These things are incredibly important to us.

I have undertaken to review this policy, and I will look at things more widely and in the round, but I reassure the House that what I do not want to come from the scrutiny of MOD policy, which is quite right, is any suggestion that our armed forces are somehow not upholding international humanitarian law.

I know that Members on both sides of the House will know how much that is embedded in our armed forces’ education and training, and how it is given with rigour in everything they do before deployment. Where there is wrongdoing, they are held to account, and it is quite right that we should hold them and officials to account for wrongdoing where it happens. This is not a regular occurrence, and it is not something that occurs within our armed forces—they operate to the highest standards.



Andrew Mitchell speaking in the House of Commons, May 2019