I’m sure many of us were deeply concerned this week when a Ministry of Defence internal document, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, revealed that ministers can override the presumption that Britain will not share intelligence when there is a risk of torture if ministers agree that “the potential benefits justify accepting the risk and legal consequences”. This “secret policy” could effectively make the UK complicit in torture –for which, I believe, there can never be any justification.
I have been vocal in my insistence that there should be an independent judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in torture and rendition, and last Friday the United Nations Committee Against Torture also called on the UK to establish such an inquiry into alleged acts of torture of detainees. This came after two reports by the Intelligence and Security Committee found 19 allegations that UK personnel had committed such acts. It should be seen as a source of shame that the United Nations feels it necessary to pass such a motion focused on Britain.
This week I joined my colleagues in the Chamber to seek answers from the new Defence Secretary, Penny Mordant. I reminded the Speaker that on 2 July 2018 Members from both sides of the House asked for a judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture. The Government promised to update the House within 60 days. Regrettably, it is now day 323 and, despite that promise, the House has not been given the explanation it requires.
The document, dated November 2018, goes against the official guidance on torture policy known as consolidated guidance which states that Britain does not “participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose”. Penny Mordaunt stated that the Prime Minister had asked the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office to review this Guidance and propose how it could be improved.
I recognise that our security depends on the sharing of intelligence, but this must not be at the expense of our values – something which this policy clearly goes against. To uphold Britain’s reputation on the world stage we must ensure that this is maintained and that these sorts of policies are prevented in future.
Britain stands up for important international values and is proud to do so. We let ourselves down as a country by compromising – in any way – on such binary issues.