The Government has rejected parliamentary proposals for tough new laws to stamp out the UK's involvement in the kidnap and unlawful transfer of terror suspects to third-party states, The Independent has learnt.
The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, has written to the chairman of an influential parliamentary committee refusing to accept recommendations to outlaw rendition.
The draft measures, drawn up by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition (APPG), are mostly targeted at the airline industry, but Mr Straw says that such proposals would be too "burdensome" and would impose disproportionate obligations on private companies.
In a letter obtained by this newspaper, Mr Straw told the group that the Government had concluded that the new laws "would not make any difference to the effectiveness of the law" to prevent rendition in the UK.
Ministers have been forced to address mounting evidence of the UK's complicity in rendition and torture since the US-led war on terror. But Mr Straw's letter has prompted criticism of the Government's handling of the issue and accusations that ministers want to avoid further controversy in the run-up to the general election.
Ministers have twice had to admit that Britain was involved in the rendition of two Iraqis to Afghanistan and two foreign nationals through the British territory of Diego Garcia.
The APPG has raised concerns over a Council of Europe report, written by Swiss senator Dick Marty, which described Prestwick Airport in Scotland as a "Category A" stopover facility for rendition flights, providing refuelling and support services. Scotland Yard is also investigating allegations that officers from MI5 and MI6 have been complicit in the torture of British residents held by the US.
Andrew Tyrie, who was MP for Chichester between 1997 and 2010 and is chairman of the all-party group, described the Government's response as "complacent". Speaking in his personal capacity, Mr Tyrie told The Independent: "His [Jack Straw's] dismissal of these proposals reflects what we've had from him and other ministers all along: prevarication and delay in getting to the truth where possible, laced with a good deal of complacency about the seriousness of allegations of kidnap and torture."
Under the proposals, it would become an offence to use UK transport facilities for extraordinary rendition. A failure by "controllers of transport" facilities in the UK to prevent the use of those facilities for extraordinary rendition would also constitute an offence.
The committee claims that their proposals would make prosecutions easier, deter the use of UK transport facilities for rendition and give the UK a chance to take the international lead in establishing "an effective prohibition against extraordinary rendition".
The parliamentarians say that the failure of the existing law and policy on rendition is reflected in the two flights through the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, the lack of adequate investigation or criminal charges, and the use of British airspace for rendition "circuit flights", documented by the Council of Europe and others. They claim that the steps taken by the Government to investigate these allegations have been inadequate.
By prohibiting the facilitation of extraordinary rendition and "rendition circuit flights", the draft laws criminalise assistance provided by people in the UK to all rendition flights, including those without detainees on board, says the group, and establish that the UK cannot be involved in any way in extraordinary renditions.
Mr Tyrie added: "To secure closure on rendition we must have disclosure. Jack Straw and his fellow ministers are now isolated in their opposition to a judge-led inquiry into all this. Getting to the truth, and doing what is necessary to give the public confidence that the UK cannot so easily be caught up in such a programme in the future, are vital. Jack Straw's refusal to take even the simple and practical steps that have been proposed by the APPG tells its own story."
The UK connection: Mohammed Madni
Former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, 28, claims Britain may have colluded with America in his rendition through the British territory of Diego Garcia.
Mr Madni alleges he was detained in Indonesia on 9 January 2002 and sent to Egypt, where he was tortured for three months. He alleges he was beaten, electrocuted, denied medical treatment and hung from hooks. His lawyers, legal charity Reprieve, cite "considerable circumstantial evidence" that the plane carrying Mr Madni from Indonesia to Egypt passed through the British territory of the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
In 2008, the Government was forced to make an embarrassing admission after the US said it had used Diego Garcia for rendition flights.
Mr Madni has taken his case to the High Court in London where he has applied for permission to seek judicial review of the Government's refusal to release documents which his lawyers say could support his case.
It is said that Mr Madni was detained at the request of the CIA after it said it had discovered a link to Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber".