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3.12 pm

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Normally, I am not keen on programme motions; Parliament ought to have the opportunity to discuss legislation in detail. However, it must be obvious, even to Opposition Members, that Parliament is about to be dissolved and that an election is coming--perhaps they have not heard about that--so if the Bill is to become law, it has to go through today. The matter is as simple as that: therefore, there is to be a programme motion.

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I am one of the Labour Back Benchers who has occasionally been forced to raise differences of opinion with Front-Bench Members--my Whip, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) is laughing--[Hon. Members: "No, he is not!"] Perhaps he is taking notes--no doubt for future commendation--. I have tabled amendments, but I am intrigued by the contribution made by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). It is ground-breaking, it is mind-blowing--it is galactic. He seems to be saying that it is time to bring the royal prerogative under parliamentary scrutiny. If that is so, I am delighted and--given the absence, tragically, of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) in the next Parliament--if the hon. and learned Gentleman is re-elected, he and I can no doubt promote a Bill to bring the royal prerogative under parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr. Garnier: I dare say that the hon. Gentleman and I will not often agree. In Standing Committee, I taxed the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) with the issue that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) addresses and mentioned the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). It is outrageous that Parliament should have no purchase whatever on the treaty-making prerogative of the Government. Earlier in the debate, Labour Members tittered when I used the word "sovereign"; they thought that I was talking about the Queen, but I was talking about this Government. It is essential that a Parliament dominated by the Executive, thanks to their supine majority, should not be allowed to make treaties on behalf of the public without Members of the House of Commons having some say in the matter. At least on this occasion, I am glad to be in some agreement with the hon. Member for Islington, North.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind all hon. Members of the wording of the motion that we are discussing.

Mr. Corbyn: The problem with the programme motion is that it does not allow sufficient time for the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and me to table motions to bring the royal prerogative under parliamentary scrutiny. Had there been sufficient time, we could no doubt have raised that issue.

The important point is that if a Government--good, bad or indifferent--sign international treaties, a Parliament should have the right to deal with those treaties in detail. We can deal only with consequential legislation, not the substance of the treaties. For an accountable Parliament and for accountable democracy, that issue must be revisited in future Parliaments. That is most important.

If the Bill is passed today, we shall be among the first 60 countries to ratify the treaty. That will mean that the court can be established and begin work. I hope that we are among those countries and that the court does start working. I look forward to the Minister's comments, either in response to this short debate or later in the Bill's

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proceedings. I hope that there will be a process whereby we can review the operation of the court, the appointment of its judges--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going rather wide of the wording of the motion.

Mr. Corbyn: Once again, time is the problem, Madam Deputy Speaker. The programme motion would not allow us to discuss the points I was outlining. However, I am sure that the Minister will want to deal with them.

Some of the proposals to be debated under the motion relate to the wish--in some cases unstated, although it is more overt in others--that the ICC should apply to everyone except us. The principle of a treaty is that a degree of sovereignty is ceded to another body. I am, therefore, concerned that some of the amendments would increase the discretion available to Ministers, either in this country or elsewhere, as to whether to proceed with cases. I wish that there was sufficient time to debate my view: there should be much less discretion, or none whatever. Surely, that is the principle of universal jurisdiction that lies behind the measure.

We have only a short time to consider eight or nine groups of amendments. I hope that we have time to discuss all of them, but above all, I hope that the measure is passed. It will deal with the difficulties that many of us faced while trying to secure justice in an international tribunal for victims in places where was no special process. There was such a process for Nazi Germany; there is one for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia. However, there was no special process for Chile and Cambodia and in many, many cases throughout the world.

However serious we are about eliminating the main perpetrators of murder, human rights abuses and terrorism against whole civilian populations, we must acknowledge that the passage of the Bill will not solve all those problems. However, at least it is a step forward and offers a forum in which some of the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses can be brought to justice. I hope that we achieve that today.

3.18 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): The position of programme motions in this Parliament has advanced rapidly. I approve of this one. In the light of the imminent election, it is certainly necessary to give effect to the clear will of Parliament--as expressed from the Front Benches--that there should be an International Criminal Court.

I am glad that the debate has allowed the instructive exchange between the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on the prerogative power. May I please sign up to their club? I wholly endorse what they said and wish only that I could pursue the matter in this place in future. It is entirely desirable that the House should be more involved in the process of making treaties, which have such a significant impact on our country, and there is, I hope, a growing consensus, but that remains to be seen.

The motion is entirely sensible. It allows reconsideration by all Members of the House of many matters, most of which have already been considered and, I believe, rather well debated at some length in Committee. The Committee

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was also programmed, and that was done with a degree of judgment as to what was required. The Minister was entirely reasonable in drawing attention to the scope of the debates that we had already had in Committee, and to the fact that very little was not considered in Committee that Members would have wished to consider.

My party has no objection of principle to the programming of debate. I was a member of the Hansard Society committee, which was chaired by the late Lord Rippon of Hexham, that deliberated on reform of the legislative process. I believe that programming allows a more complete and orderly discussion of issues, which safeguards the interests of Back Benchers, provided that programmes take full account of the nature of the discussions and of the variety of matters that it might be important to consider during the later stages of the Bill.

The only objection that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have to programming is that, as it has been carried out during this Parliament, it has tended to be laid down too early in the legislative process, and not by the Standing Committee following the Second Reading debate, which would be the right time to make such determinations. I hope that the next Parliament will return to that issue, so that the concerns of the hon. Member for Islington, North and others about programming can be taken into account. If, for whatever reason, the Standing Committee cannot reach agreement, the matter might have to return to the Chamber to be determined, but I consider that this has been a reasonable start to the process of trying to order debate to ensure that all the major issues are addressed.

I fervently believe, as I said in Committee, that it is crucial that the Bill passes. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) seems to give her support to the doctrine of unripe time. She seems to be saying that although in principle she favours the establishment of the court, it is not the right time for us to ratify the statute. Would she regard it as the right time for us to do so when 60 other countries have already set the processes in concrete, which would exclude us from participation in the choice of the judges operating in the court?

Mrs. Gillan: The right hon. Gentleman is putting in my mouth words that I never said--in fact, I have said the reverse. I have said that if the Minister is trying to justify the programme motion with the lame excuse that we need to be in the first 60 countries to ratify, it is worth remembering that only two countries have ratified this year, bringing us up to a total of 30, and that there is plenty of time, as far as I know, to be in the first 60 but to give this legislation proper scrutiny in the middle of a decent Parliament, when it is not being rushed through with undue haste.

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