|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Maude: I was not relying on the report in The Daily Telegraph; I was using it to show that when that remark was quoted, that was all the evidence that we had, because the transcript of the evidence given to the Committee was not available. The Minister in the other place brushed everything aside as mere reports, but it turned out that at the same time, the Chief of the Defence Staff had expressed serious concerns before a Committee of this House investigating another Bill. Despite that, Ministers were pooh-poohing such suggestions and saying, "There's nothing to worry about; the military are happy about this." That was simply not true.
Mr. Maclennan: I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is invalidating my point by referring to Admiral Boyce in that way. He may even be fortifying my case for better and more direct scrutiny of the concerns of such people. A remark made in that way, which was clearly not central to the considerations of the Committee in which it was made, was not capable of being examined or answered either by the members of the Committee or by the Government, who, if the military had general concerns, had no doubt considered such matters with them in the consultative process.
Mr. Corbyn: The right hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. Does he agree that one of the great problems is that not only does this House have no right to pre-scrutinise treaties, but it has no say whatever over
Mr. Maclennan: I accept that. I do not argue against the idea that the treaty-making power--the prerogative power--goes effectively unscrutinised, save by the grace and favour of Her Majesty's Ministers. In a modern democracy, that seems wholly unsuitable.
I must acknowledge that there has been some modest movement in the right direction in the past year. In its second report of the Session 1999-2000, the Procedure Committee sought to ensure that if a treaty was laid under the Ponsonby rules, it would be referred to the appropriate Select Committee of the House--appropriate, that is, in the opinion of the Government. Twenty-one days were to be set aside to give consideration to the treaty. We have, therefore, made a modest step in the right direction, although I do not believe that it is nearly enough. I was sorry that the Liaison Committee in another place decided that, owing to resource constraints--which, of course, I understand--it would not at this time set up a comparable Committee, although there are certainly experts in matters such as these in the other place.
If we had had that kind of scrutiny, it would not have been possible for the Opposition to seek to throw dust in the jurymen's eyes in the way that they did, in the long and wholly unpersuasive speech by the right hon. Member for Horsham. He lost sight of the overall objective in raising his concerns in a rather non-specific way. Some of his points had already been answered by the Foreign Secretary. His concern about our military personnel being whisked off to the International Criminal Court by a prosecutor acting irrationally not only seemed fanciful but appear to have been provided for by the fact that the ICC could not proceed in such a case if the matter was being acted on in this country. Such circumstances would block the ICC taking any action.
I look forward to the Bill going into Committee, where I have no doubt that we shall hear in greater detail some of the arguments that have been deployed in rather general terms today. However, we should not allow such matters to deflect us from the substantial step forward that this provision represents for the international community. Many of the decisions taken in the work leading up to the agreement of the statute in 1998 were wise ones. They built on the substantive public international law that existed: it was not a legislative process in that sense.
The procedural arrangements, in whose establishment the British Government played a major part, seem calculated to give reassurance that, although there will be differences in the way in which we conduct criminal trials--there will be no guarantee of a jury, for example--the rule of law will operate. Extensive effectiveness will be achieved as a result of these measures.
This is one of the most important Bills that I have encountered in my 35 years in the House--I celebrated my anniversary on Saturday. In my youth, I was very idealistic about the extension of world peace through world law. I remember reading at that time a famous book by Emery Reeves, called "The Anatomy of Peace". Since then, I have felt more and more that that was a hopeless aspiration. The Bill to some extent rekindles the aspiration towards a deterrence to the kinds of acts that have scarred the previous century, and which I hope will be a diminishing experience in international society in the century in which we now live.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Before I come to the Second Reading of the Bill, I note that the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) alluded to his 35 years in the House. I suspect that his speech might be his last substantive contribution in this Chamber, although perhaps not in this palace. I hope that he will be resurrected in the gentle pastures of another place. Despite the fact that he started out as a Labour Member of Parliament, and went to lead the Social Democratic party before becoming a Liberal Democrat, I would like to place it on record that, during the two Parliaments in which I have been in the House, he has been a Member for whom I have had admiration. I also appreciate his never-ceasing courtesy and friendship.
I welcome the Bill and recognise how important it is, but I am frustrated that it has taken so long to reach Second Reading. The Canadian Parliament secured Royal Assent for the equivalent legislation last June. I studied the Canadian legislation and introduced my own Bill, modelled on the Canadian law, some months ago. That process showed me that there was greater clarity in the Canadian law than there is in our Bill.
This is a profoundly important occasion. If we look back over the past 100 years, we see that legislators here and in other democratic Parliaments have tried--they failed, but they tried--to build up, in a fragile way, some international jurisprudence and international tribunals to combat the appalling atrocities of genocide, war crimes and so on. In that context, reference was made to the Nuremberg trials.
I am something of an amateur student of the first world war, and it is interesting that the guiding light for the proposals that we are now discussing was one of the good aspects of the much-discredited treaty of Versailles, articles 228 to 230 of which provided for an international court to deal with war crimes. Eighty years ago next month, trials were opened in the Supreme Court at Leipzig, as a consequence of the treaty, to deal with war crimes. It is true that the trials took place under a German court, but the British team of observers gave them a clean bill of health.
I mention those trials not only for anecdotal reasons but because they were conducted domestically, and the international observers--including the British--thought that they were conducted fairly and appropriately. Our primary intention must be to ensure that the trials of those