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International Criminal Court

10. Caroline Flint (Don Valley): When he expects the UK to seek ratification of the treaty setting up the International Criminal Court. [154096]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): The UK will ratify the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court as soon as the necessary legislation is in place. The International Criminal Court Bill is before the House and we hope that it will receive strong support on all sides. Our intention is to be among the first 60 states to ratify.

Caroline Flint: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Certainly, organisations and individuals in my constituency who have written to me on the issue will welcome the ratification of that important measure. That goes for groups such as Amnesty International and other human rights bodies that submitted their opinions on the draft Bill, followed by detailed scrutiny in the other place. Will my hon. Friend reassure me of the continued support of all parties in the House for a speedy resolution and ratification of the Bill, and that the all-party support still holds firm?

Mr. Battle: The draft Bill was published last August; there were about 45 submissions giving detailed comments--mainly positive and supportive--from a range of non-governmental and professional organisations, lawyers, academics and interested parliamentarians. It will be a historic Bill, which I hope all parties in the House will continue to support. That will send a signal to the world's tyrants that there is a clear consensus in Britain and in the international community that we are united in that determination to end impunity, because justice, wherever possible, is obviously the best foundation for long-term peace.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): For the record, both sides of the House support the aims of the International Criminal Court Bill to bring to justice those who commit crimes against humanity. However, the current Bill introduced by the Government has some fundamental flaws, which our military commanders have warned could lead to British troops being prosecuted for war crimes and being prevented from carrying out peacekeeping tasks. The French have protected their armed services through an opt-out. Will the Minister undertake to accept the Conservative amendments to the Bill tabled in another place that would safeguard our armed forces, or do our soldiers, sailors and airmen get less protection than the French?

Mr. Battle: It must be jitters before the election--the hon. Lady is changing her position. On two occasions, she pressed us to get on with the measure: in July 1988--[Hon. Members: "1988?"]--she said she welcomed the Bill; in October 1999, I think that she said she would help Ministers in any way that she could. It does not sound like that now.

The amendments tabled by Lord Lamont in the other place did not receive support. I notice that he opposes not only the International Criminal Court but the Yugoslav tribunal and other forms of international justice. I hope that is not the case for current Opposition Front Benchers;

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I hope that they will stick by their original commitment. The Bill is vital to international justice--I hope that they still support it.

Middle East

11. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): If he will make a statement on the situation in the middle east. [154097]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): Following a successful European Union Troika visit to the region, Heads of State and Government discussed the situation in the middle east at the European Council in Stockholm on 23 March. The Council reaffirmed the Union's determination to contribute to peace, stability and future prosperity in the middle east. To that end, it requested the EU High Representative Javier Solana to explore how the EU can play an enhanced role in promoting the resumption of the peace process.

Although there has been an overall reduction in the level of violence in the past two weeks--notwithstanding the events of the past 24 hours--we remain deeply concerned at the continuing tensions and instability. We urge both parties to take immediate parallel steps to address the current crisis.

Mr. Dismore: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is overwhelming evidence that Palestinian terrorism--such as the mortar attack from a Palestinian police station in Gaza last week, the two bombs in Jerusalem today or the terribly tragic shooting of a 10-month-old Israeli baby girl yesterday--can no longer simply be attributed to Palestinian rejectionist groups, but is also the responsibility of the Palestine National Authority? Will my hon. Friend do all he can to ensure that Mr. Arafat does whatever he can to try to stop that terrorism and violence from the Palestinians and so allow the peace process to be resumed?

Mr. Wilson: We condemn such acts from whichever source they come. The problem is that if there is no atmosphere of dialogue--an atmosphere that appears to be leading to a just outcome to all the problems--it makes room for extremist elements to preach a doctrine of violence and to commit the acts to which my hon. Friend refers. Everything that we do and say is directed towards a resumption of the peace process with one aim--getting people around a table to discuss a solution, taking up where discussions were leading before the Israeli elections, and feeding into the process, bilaterally, through the European Union, in every way possible. Taking out isolated acts of terrorism and condemning them is perfectly legitimate, but it does not contribute to the wider solution. We condemn all violence. We must have dialogue if there is to be peace.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): What are the objectives of the Government's policy towards Iran?

Mr. Wilson: We are anxious to encourage reform within Iran. We are anxious to develop our relations, and to that end the Minister for the Cabinet Office recently made the first high-level visit to Iran in, I think, 20 years.

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We shall take that process forward. Where there is progress towards democratic standards we will encourage that, and that is true in Iran.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Is my hon. Friend aware that a senior Iraqi official has recently been in the UK, that he is a close friend of Saddam Hussein, that he has been given a multiple entry visa by our embassy in Jordan and that he is closely connected with an institute in Iraq that is involved in chemical and biological components? Why was he given a visa when visitors who wished to come here from Iraq and Syria--members of the Iraqi opposition--were refused visas this weekend? Has there been a change of policy on Iraq?

Mr. Wilson: I do not think that this is really the forum in which to second-guess the visa process. However, I would say that the gentleman in question was admitted as the president of the Council of Technical Colleges in Iraq. He was not judged to be a senior figure in the Iraqi regime. He came here to access educational materials and, as my hon. Friend and the House well know, the policy of sanctions against Iraq is not directed against educational materials or humanitarian goods. In that spirit, it was consistent to grant the visa to that gentleman.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): With reference to my question 33, and echoing the words of the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), does the Minister agree that the overriding priority at the moment, given the extreme fragility of the middle east peace initiative, must be to encourage an end to violence and a resumption of the dialogue and negotiations? Given that the European Union countries have presented the Palestinian authorities with a very favourable economic package, does the Minister agree that he and his counterparts in Europe must use all the influence that they have at this time to encourage Yasser Arafat to meet those twin overriding objectives?

Mr. Wilson: There is a significant role for the European Union--and I think that everyone in the middle east believes that there is a role for the European Union in this process. Therefore, I am very pleased at the visit by the EU High Representative to explore how the EU can play an enhanced role. That step was strongly supported by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in Stockholm at the weekend.

What the hon. Gentleman says is correct. There is a role for the EU and I am sure that, in the discussions with Yasser Arafat and other representatives of the Palestinians, the points that the hon. Gentleman made can be pursued.

Nice Treaty

12. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): When he plans to take steps to enable the UK to ratify the treaty of Nice. [154098]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Last week's Command Paper contains the text of the treaty of Nice. We will bring the Bill necessary to ratify the treaty before the House as soon as possible.

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The treaty of Nice increases Britain's vote in the European Union, removes the veto of other countries on British priorities such as tougher budget control, and provides the institutional reforms essential for enlargement. It is in Britain's interest to ratify as soon as possible.

Mr. Cunningham: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the progress that has been made towards enlargement can certainly lead to the avoidance of the mistakes of the last century, particularly those mistakes that led to wars, and does he agree that the Opposition have not necessarily learned the lessons of the last century? Will my hon. Friend elaborate on the early warning system and human rights?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is correct on his last point. There is provision for an early warning system that would enable the European Union to intervene in a helpful way if there were any departure from human rights, but the departure has to be serious and persistent before it is triggered. I agree absolutely with his other remarks. A dozen or more countries are now seeking to join the European Union. One day they will be in the Council Chamber as full members. It is in Britain's interest that they remember us as friends of their applications and as supporters of the treaty of Nice.

I know from talking to the Governments of those countries that they are mystified that the Opposition continue to oppose the treaty of Nice. I have written several times in the past three months to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), asking him to say exactly what he believes needs to be renegotiated; he has never replied. There is just enough time for him to reply this afternoon, or to admit that he is not prepared to defend the Conservative party's policy because he knows that it has no credibility.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the failure at Nice to halt the continuing slide to political integration will damage successful enlargement? In that vein, the Belgian presidency is seeking tax harmonisation on all savings, on personal and company taxation and on energy, labour and capital. Why is he not fighting to reform the one policy that will really jeopardise enlargement--the common agricultural policy, where British leadership is so pathetically absent?

Mr. Cook: There is not a single Government among the candidate nations who would agree with the hon. Gentleman that the treaty of Nice does not further enlargement. I ask him to reflect on the fact that if someone is the only one who holds a certain opinion, it is just possible that that person is wrong. The hon. Gentleman is probably wise to stick to his written text, rather than to try to answer my question, but the House will have noticed that he and the right hon. Member for Horsham cannot tell us what must be renegotiated in the treaty of Nice. If they cannot tell us, they might as well admit that their policy is wrong and lacking in credibility and that they have no intention of carrying it out.

3.30 pm

Mr. Speaker: We shall deal with question 24. I call Mr. Ben Bradshaw.

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