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Mr. Clarke: That is not the whole sentence.

Mr. Hawkins: That is the whole sentence. The Minister cannot get away from the fact that the amendments were tabled jointly--

It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings, Madam Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Lords amendment No. 25 agreed to [Special Entry].

Madam Deputy Speaker then put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Lords amendments Nos. 26 to 43 agreed to.

10 May 2001 : Column 305

International Criminal Court Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

2.51 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): I beg to move,


The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Government to ratify the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. The Bill was discussed in another place before it came to this House for debate in Committee. That debate was excellent, and the Bill is in good shape.

In Committee, we discussed 58 of the amendments tabled by the Opposition, and only six were not debated. Our considerations gave rise to substantial and high-quality debate.

Some of the matters tabled for consideration this afternoon have been discussed at all stages of the Bill so far. However, I am confident that we can deal with them in the time allowed, and that we can continue to work constructively on the details of the Bill. I am pleased that we are discussing it today, and I hope that we can make further good progress in the time remaining.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said in Committee on 1 May that quite good progress had been made on the Bill. I think that that is right; in my experience of the House, the quality of debate in Committee was exceptional.

The motion is not merely a result of the fact that we are caught up in the timetable dictated by the Dissolution of Parliament. The Bill has to go through Parliament now so that Britain can be one of the first 60 states to ratify the Rome statute. We have been involved in shaping that statute from the outset, a process that has taken years, and our officials worked hard on its original provisions. We want to sign up early so that we can remain in a position to shape the International Criminal Court.

Finally, much interest in the Bill has been expressed by non-governmental organisations such as the International Red Cross, and they have said that they want the Bill to go ahead. There has been almost universal support--including among Opposition Members--for the principles of the Bill, although I understand that some Opposition Back-Bench Members are still not comfortable with the position adopted by their Front-Bench colleagues.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Correct.

Mr. Battle: The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) says that that is correct, but the matter is one for those on the Opposition Front Bench to sort out, not me.

My point is that NGOs and other bodies outside the House with an interest in the matter have been assiduous in making representations. We have taken those representations seriously, and I hope that those bodies feel that we have taken many of their considerations on board.

10 May 2001 : Column 306

2.53 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I must inform the Minister that Conservative Front-Bench Members do not sort out our Back-Bench colleagues, but allow them to speak their minds as and when they wish. Not for one minute would I seek to impose my views on a piece of legislation, or those of other Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, on independent-minded and responsible Back Benchers. The Minister may think that we act in the same way as the Labour party so obviously does with regard to its members, but I must disabuse him.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, and for her typical generosity of spirit. Following her guidance, I hope that I shall be able to exercise a small degree of independence.

Does my hon. Friend agree with the Minister's apparent contention that, when a body called an NGO expresses a view about a matter, that legitimises an amendment to legislation in this House? Members of Parliament are here to make our own judgment about what is right and what is wrong. We should take account of what NGOs say, but those organisation should not by any means have the first or last word on a matter.

Mrs. Gillan: My right hon. Friend is right. Non- governmental organisations play an important role in making representations, and we should listen to them carefully. Where we find merit in the points that they put forward, we should pursue them.

Indeed, it was a great shame that the Government did not listen more carefully to some of the representations made to them. We were forced to table amendments to the Bill in Committee so that matters proposed by well meaning and interested parties could be discussed. It was a great shame that the Minister could not persuade the Government to take into consideration the views of the much vaunted NGOs on which he seeks to rely.

I am most disappointed that, on what is in effect the final day of this Parliament, the House should be faced with a programme motion on this Bill. The Minister moved a programme motion in the House on 3 April, at the beginning of proceedings on the Bill. He gave the undertaking then that consideration on Report and Third Reading would fall within a certain time frame, but today's motion goes back on that undertaking.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Does not it follow that the Minister not only did not listen to representations from NGOs, but that he did not listen to what he said to himself?

Mrs. Gillan: My hon. and learned Friend is right. The Minister is well meaning, but I am afraid that he gets forced into moving in certain directions. This motion is a case in point. It is reprehensible to timetable the Bill at this stage, and it means that he has gone back on his original promise.

I am disappointed with the motion for several reasons. As the Minister knows, I disapprove in principle of such motions, and of the way in which they have been used during this Parliament. I shall return to that matter later.

10 May 2001 : Column 307

I am especially disappointed because of what the Minister said in his opening remarks on the first day of our Committee deliberations. He said:


The Bill is extremely complex and technical, and requires detailed scrutiny. Consideration in Committee lasted for 25 hours--less the time spent finding a Chairman for one of our sittings--and that allowed us to touch on some of the topics. However, we were not able to touch on all the proposals that might have improved the Bill.

The Bill was far from perfect, despite a very rapid scrutiny process in another place, and Government amendments had to be tabled. Even after a so-called consultation process, the Bill remained imperfect. Today's programme motion shows how the Government have treated the Bill with disrespect and disregard.

Mr. Battle: It is worth reminding the House that the Opposition said that four issues should be debated in Committee--the seven-year opt-out, discretion over warrants, command responsibility and declarations on ratification. Only one of those items was not discussed.

In Committee, our discussion covered subjects as diverse as the European Court of Human Rights, the aggressive situation developing between China and Taiwan, the Lockerbie trial, Diego Garcia, NATO's action in Kosovo, no-fly zones in Iraq, corruption at the Olympics, the politicisation of the ICC, the means of electing ICC personnel, Israel, the Falklands dispute, parliamentary scrutiny of treaties, the Pinochet question, peace talks and face-to-face diplomacy, Angola, nuclear weapons and the history of the law of war.

I should have hoped that that variety of topics might be seen as offering a sufficient range of debate in Committee, but we accept that some matters remain that the Opposition want to raise.

Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that the whole point of this stage of consideration of a Bill is to allow those who were not privileged to serve on the Standing Committee to contribute to the debate and table amendments, and that to quote what happened in Committee is an utter irrelevance at this stage?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): We are, in fact, discussing a programme motion.


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