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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 February 2008, 11:28 GMT
Rendition admission: record-keeping blamed
On Sunday 24 February Andrew Marr interviewed Margaret Beckett MP

Former Foreign Secretary says the US failed to keep a clear trace of possible 'rendition' flights.

Margaret Beckett MP ...credit Jeff Overs/BBC
Margaret Beckett MP

ANDREW MARR: Now Margaret Beckett has been a Minister way back to Jim Callaghan's government, she was leader of the Labour Party briefly, and she's worked for Kinnock, Smith, Blair, and she was the first female Foreign Secretary but she didn't survive the transition to Brown last summer.

Now she is chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Welcome Margaret Beckett, thank you very much indeed for coming in.

The Intelligence and Security Committee - explain to us - is not an ordinary select committee, is it?

MARGARET BECKETT: No. In many ways it operates not in somewhat similar ways to an ordinary select committee. But it reports to the government rather than just to parliament although its annual report is published and sometimes they do ad hoc reports.

ANDREW MARR: And this is because you oversee MI5 and MI6, so it's the most sensitive stuff that you're dealing with?

MARGARET BECKETT: Absolutely. The committee sees secret material, interviews the agencies, looks into issues that your average select committee just wouldn't be able to do. And so that's where it's different.

ANDREW MARR: Now I know that you can't therefore tell us all about what you see. But given that you do see huge amounts of material that the rest of us never will, just give us your assessment of the general risk at the moment from an Al Qaeda-type attack in this country?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well I think the director of the security services has been very clear about it. There are sadly substantial numbers of people who we worry about and who are watched, and as you know there've been a number of quite high profile cases lately where indeed people have been convicted and have gone down.

ANDREW MARR: And like the rest of us I'm sure you were watching the extraordinary circus of the Diana inquest, and Al Fayed and so on. And Richard Dearlove going in and saying MI6 don't go around killing people, is that true?

MARGARET BECKETT: I have absolutely no grounds to doubt that that is true. And Richard Dearlove made it clear that MI6 never has gone about killing people. And I think his evidence was very helpful.

ANDREW MARR: So we stick with the James Bond films and respect it for that?

ANDREW MARR: I'm afraid, yes, life is not so exciting.

ANDREW MARR: Right, let's turn to another of the big issues we've talked about already on the programme today which is extraordinary rendition, these flights coming in and out of the country.

Now you were one of those people who poo-pooed the idea that the Americans had been involved, had stopped at British territory. And it turns out that you were wrong about that, the Americans had given us the wrong information to put it neutrally.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well I'm in a slightly odd position here because, as Foreign Secretary, as you say, I had to give answers on this issue.

But the Intelligence and Security Committee before I joined it looked at some of the cases where it was suggested that the intelligence agencies, our intelligence agencies, might have been involved in rendition cases.

They didn't look, except very marginally and as background, at the issue of these potential flights, because that's not a matter for this committee, it might be a matter for the Foreign Affairs Committee to whom you know the Foreign Secretary's going to report.

ANDREW MARR: Should you not as Foreign Secretary have acceded to Shami Chakrabati and other people's request for a proper inquiry into whether the Americans were landing in and out of Prestwick and Glasgow and other airports?

MARGARET BECKETT: But there have been inquiries, and there's been extensive scrutiny. I think that...

ANDREW MARR: Did you ask the Americans about this?

MARGARET BECKETT: Of course, and you know, again I'm not talking as chair of this committee because this is not really a matter for my committee. David Miliband is going to report to the Foreign Affairs Committee on anything that comes up. But one thing that did come out in the report of the committee I now chair is that record-keeping was not all that marvellous, frankly.

It was very difficult for the government to answer questions, they were asked to go back and look at what had happened on previous occasions, that there was not a clear, simple trace of record-keeping. That may, I don't know, that may have been the case in the United States also, which may have led to these recent disclosures.

ANDREW MARR: So, if we look at these 200 or so flights which have been logged in and out of British airports, you and others said this is not extraordinary rendition, it's nothing to do with that.

We presumably now have got to go back and reopen that issue since we were wrong on Diego Garcia, and you say that, well you say the records are difficult. The Americans must know what those flights were doing. We can ask the Americans, and demand to be told the answers, can't we?

MARGARET BECKETT: We did ask the Americans, and the Americans told us that there was no evidence of British airspace ever having been used. The Americans are now saying they've gone back and looked again and in fact actually talked to some of the flight crews and have discovered two cases.

think there's an important point to make here. The first point to make really is that people keep saying what we want is a different, an inquiry, a different inquiry, a more transparent inquiry. What they mean is the inquiries that we've had haven't brought us the answers that we wanted. The second point I'd make to you is that I draw a distinction, I've been looking at the newspaper coverage over the last few days, I draw a distinction between comment, specific allegations and evidence.

With regard to comment, the comment can be quite sweeping as you say, references to 170 flights, 200 flights transiting - well that turns out to mean and the people who produce this report say this, is that planes that were sometimes used by the CIA passed through British airspace. They're not suggesting, none of them are suggesting, that these all were rendition flights. There were four where they say maybe a plane on its way back from taking somebody to inter rendition passed through British airspace.

Not that it passed through British airspace carrying those passengers. So these allegations are quite limited. However, what David Miliband has very sensibly said is that all the specific allegations that have been made will now be put again to the Americans, and they'll be asked again to look not just at the general background, have you come up with anything, but here is an allegation about a specific flight, a specific date, look at that.

ANDREW MARR: We talk about these things in slightly abstract terms. Do you agree that water-boarding is torture?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think everybody, most people do.

ANDREW MARR: Hillary Clinton's not sure about it, I see...

MARGARET BECKETT: Well I was going to say, I stopped myself from saying everybody because there is a discussion in the United States about what constitutes torture and what constitutes cruelty.

ANDREW MARR: But you think it is torture?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think it's hard to say it's not torture.

ANDREW MARR: So we have a situation where Britain may have been used for flights involving torture which opens us in turn to European human rights legislation and attack on that front.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well.

ANDREW MARR: And this happened under your watch.

MARGARET BECKETT: No, I think there is, again there are all sorts of different allegations. There have been two occasions on which Britain did give permission for flights to take someone to be tried, in a proper legal system, in the ordinary way. That was in 1998.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Britain has been complicit in anybody being taken to be tortured or in anybody being tortured. Now that's something obviously that whatever other relevant authorities will want to look at. But there is no evidence, there are lots of sweeping statements, there are lots of wild allegations. That isn't evidence.

ANDREW MARR: So what we need to do is to get out there and look for them. Are you sure that there is no where on British territory that is a so-called black or hidden prison camp?

MARGARET BECKETT: Not that any member of the British government is aware of. No. There is no evidence on that whatsoever.

ANDREW MARR: And do you do you feel that the American administration with whom you were shoulder to shoulder, has played quite fair with you?

MARGARET BECKETT: It depends on whether you conclude that the Americans knew this and kept it from us. I don't myself believe that any more than David Miliband believes it. I think that clearly there were some errors, clearly there are flaws in their record-keeping. They say that they told us about these two flights that passed through Diego Garcia, as soon as they realised that they had taken place. And I don't have any cause to doubt that that was the case.

ANDREW MARR: Your new job is less well known to the public than your last job. There is an argument that it is at least as important in many ways, that you are now the gatekeeper for lots of these sort of democratic and really, really difficult issues of security on the one hand, and democracy on the other. And that it's not public scrutiny but nonetheless you've become the gatekeeper for that. Is that how you feel?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think there's a certain amount of truth in that where it involves our intelligence agencies. For example I said to you that the committee didn't look at the issue of flights, but what they did look at was some very specific allegations that our intelligence agencies had deliberately set somebody up and sent them into detention potentially over claim is torture.

They looked at all the evidence on that and said no that's not what happened. Yes some information was supplied but the agencies in no way were involved in setting somebody up, indeed protested when one particular case someone was taken into detention.

ANDREW MARR: I asked David Davis, I'll ask you. Michael Martin, is his speakership drawing unpeacefully to a close?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think it's really, I will confess Andrew that I don't fully understand this story that has appeared this morning. What, however, I do understand, and what is very clear, is that there has been a whole string of nasty little stories about and around Michael Martin.

omebody is out to get him, whether they are, whether what they say is valid or is just somebody being out to get him I can't judge. There's a huge amount of paper on it in today's Sunday papers. There doesn't seem to me to be an enormous amount of content as opposed to comment.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Margaret Beckett, thank you very, very much indeed for coming in to join us.

INTERVIEW ENDS


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.


NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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