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9.35 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): In December 1948, the United Nations Assembly first discussed the idea of an international criminal court. There is no doubt that tonight's debate is another small step on the road to achieving that aim--a road that has already taken well over 50 years. If it takes us a few weeks longer, it is understandable.

There has been so much interest in the debate that not all hon. Members have been able to speak in it. However, Opposition and Government Front Benchers took many interventions, as did other speakers. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) and for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes)--to name just three hon. Members--are disappointed that they have not been able to speak, and we are sorry that we have not been able to hear their speeches.

There is no doubt that there is great interest in the Bill's safe passage, if that is the will of the House. I shall speak only briefly--which will please the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), who so kindly criticised the way in which I handled another Bill in Committee--because I want to give the Minister an opportunity to answer the many questions that have been asked. We shall be able to raise other issues in Committee.

When the Foreign Secretary opened the debate, hon. Members--perhaps inevitably, in the context of this Bill--thought of the Balkans, particularly now that Milosevic has been arrested and there are discussions on

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the point at which he should be sent to The Hague to face trial for the hideous crimes against humanity for which he is widely believed to be responsible. We want Milosevic to be arraigned at The Hague before too much time has passed, but we must, as I hope the Foreign Secretary will agree, respect the decisions of those who have to live most immediately with the consequences, and of course we wish them well.

The Foreign Secretary also quite rightly pointed out the greater and wider interest in the Bill among non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman was slightly waspish in his view of the Opposition's attitude and support for the Bill. At the same time, however, I join him in paying tribute to the legal team, under the leadership of Sir Franklin Berman, who negotiated on behalf of the United Kingdom. The Foreign Secretary said that our concerns were misplaced. He will therefore undoubtedly ensure that all our concerns are dealt with fully in Committee.

In reply to the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) quite rightly reiterated the Opposition's broad support for the principle of the Bill and offered constructive support in working with the Government. He also raised the issues that are on everyone's lips and on which assurances and clarification are sought. Those issues were certainly raised in the speeches that we have heard today.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie must agree with us on some of those issues, as he said that this is not a perfect Bill and that it will be an imperfect court. He also made the point that if we do not embrace the Bill, we will never have an international criminal court, but I take issue with him on that. Although he seemed to believe that any criticism of the Bill must be wrong, he asked various questions about it. He asked, for example, for further explanation of the powers of retrospection. I look forward to the amendments that he said he may table.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie also expressed reservations about the United States' position--a theme that was taken up by other Members. Although he said that signing up to the statute was the only good thing that Clinton had done, he also said that the reservations that Clinton added to his signature were very disturbing.

Sadly, the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)--who has left the Chamber--was unable to speak in the debate, although she intervened to point out that the United States had an ambassador for war crimes. I hope that she will be able to serve on the Committee because I think that she could make a contribution to the Bill's passage.

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) gave his usual support to the Government and then turned to attack Conservative Members--no surprises there. However, he raised the important issue of the scrutiny of treaties in this place and the Ponsonby rules. I hope that he will have the opportunity to raise that issue in Committee if he is fortunate enough to be a member. He also said that, in his 45 years in the House--[Hon. Members: "It is 35".] My goodness, a week is a long time in politics! He said that

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this is the most important legislation that the House has considered in the 35 years in which he has been an hon. Member.

I should like to pay a small tribute to the right hon. Gentleman. This evening's speech may have been his last contribution to this House on a substantial piece of business--although he may have other opportunities, as the Government have another year to run. He has always brought a serious and courteous tone to debates, which I, for one, have appreciated. When he finally leaves this place, he will be much missed on all sides.

I offer my apologies to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) as I was not in the Chamber for the totality of his contribution. However, I heard a small part of it, and I share his frustration that it took so long to get the Bill to Second Reading. He displayed his great knowledge of the Canadian legislation and its passage through that country's House. He felt that the Bill was a profoundly important piece of legislation. He has sustained a great interest in these matters over a long time, and he will make a valuable contribution to our deliberations on the Bill.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) speaks from great experience. He drew on the example of the Belgrano to explore what might have happened to our Prime Minister of the time and to members of the armed services if the Bill, as drafted, had obtained at that time. He raised issues about nuclear weapons that need to be discussed, and asked the important question about who judges. He also touched on the role of the prosecutor. My right hon. and learned Friend reflected the feelings of all Conservative Members when he said that he did not want to pour cold water on the noble aims of the Bill, but he noted that detailed examination was necessary when such complex and serious legislation is involved.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) confirmed that 139 countries had signed up to the statute, but that only 29 have ratified it so far. She echoed the aim expressed by many hon. Members that Britain should be among the first 60 countries to ratify the ICC. She quoted Kofi Annan--quite rightly so--but in so doing stole my thunder, and I shall not repeat the observation in question. The attention that she gave to national Holocaust day will be appreciated in the Chamber, and by a wider audience as well.

The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) raised some uniquely important matters that must be discussed in Committee. He talked about the unique problems that may face the accused, and about those people's rights--an element that has been sadly lacking in debates to date on the ICC. He raised the spectre of the political court and of the pressures for a conviction in high-profile cases. He also spoke about the quality of justice--or, indeed, of mercy--and I feel sure that it would be valuable to explore more issues along those lines.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) has made speeches on this subject before. Indeed, I was in the Chamber when she secured her Adjournment debate on 27 October 1999. She wants to pay particular attention to the concept of residence introduced by a Minister in another place, which she believes is causing confusion. She also used powerful examples from Rwanda, on which she is a great and

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acknowledged expert. She challenged our attempts to protect the armed forces, and I look forward to pursuing those arguments in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made his usual cogent and well-argued contribution. His was a powerful speech, which relied on his great and extensive knowledge of the second world war. He wanted to know what would happen if the UK tried a member of the armed services in the UK, and he inquired about the consequences of the results of such a trial.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) went on about Colombia, and again raised the issue of the definition of the phrase "ordinarily resident" as applied to the UK. He admitted that the Bill contains serious flaws that must be corrected in Committee.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) gave the House the benefit of knowledge gathered during a distinguished Army career. He spoke about the consequences of the Bill for the armed forces.

Finally, I would like to restate the points that were made in good faith by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham, on examination of the Bill. So far, we believe that there should be four amendments--the seven-year opt-out provided for under article 124; the discretion for the Secretary of State over the issuing of warrants from the ICC through an interpretive declaration; the revision of the legal test under clause 65 for what a military commander ought to have known; and an amendment to ensure that if the Bill becomes law and ratification takes place, the declarations from the Government must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

Despite some of the more immature asides from Labour Members, I believe that we have made progress tonight. In anticipation of a responsive dialogue with the Government on our attempts to protect our armed forces and to show that we wish the Bill well, we will not vote against it on Second Reading. However, I give due warning that we are not rubber-stamping this process and that if the safeguards that we ask for are not put in place, we will be unable, sadly, to support the Bill on Third Reading.

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