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Mr. Garnier: Of course, the hon. Gentleman knows everything. He showed us that in Committee. I am grateful for his attendance and his contributions. He adorned our debates in every sense, but he was unusual. There are many Members--this is not a party political point--who are not aware of the constitutional arrangements and are happy to troop sheep-like through the Lobby at the behest of the Government Whips, little realising that they will be handing over to extra-territorial bodies huge powers that they will never be able to recover.
We are sent here by the electorate to represent their interests. I suspect that they do not send us here--I know that this is the position in my case--to give the Government huge powers to hand over our responsibilities to extra-territorial bodies. That simple point is often missed and I am hugely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate for providing an opportunity to debate it.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) for returning to the matter on the Floor of the House, not because I would like his new clause to be accepted or the progress of the Bill impeded in any way, but because parliamentary deliberation on treaties is an important constitutional issue that deserves wider and more extensive scrutiny in the post-election period.
Apropos of the new clause, I recall an incident in the development of our constitutional processes in Scotland. A certain lady became a lady licentiate of St. Andrews university. She was one of its first female graduates and, as such, she claimed the right to enjoy the franchise to vote for the university Member of Parliament. Had she
As we were not able to extend the franchise to ladies through that adventurous episode in the Scottish courts, I suspect that it would be unlikely that we will be able to change the constitution on treaty making by assenting to the new clause--[Interruption.] That is not to impugn the motives of the hon. Member for Reigate or undermine the constitutional fact that Parliament can do what it likes with respect to legislation. None the less, on an issue of such importance, it would be more sensible to have a little time to deliberate on the implementation of the underlying principle of parliamentary involvement in treaty making, and review alternative ways of doing that. It is not necessarily the fact that we want to give Parliament the automatic power to dispense with a treaty obligation in defiance of the wishes of the Government of the day.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): The right hon. Gentleman made a valid point about wider constitutional questions and asked for a little time to consider them. I remind him and the House that, under the terms of the statute of Rome, there is all the time in the world. It prescribes that there shall be no amendments until seven years after it comes into force, and it is unlikely to do so for another year. In other words, we have eight years before we are faced with the first amendment, which is two full Parliaments--a long enough time, I should have thought, to have a leisurely debate on the constitutional principle that we are discussing.
Mr. Maclennan: I am obliged to the Foreign Secretary and delighted that he feels that degree of urgency about effecting change in the processes of which he has given notice; I hope that what he implies is justified.
Mr. Garnier: What the Foreign Secretary said is true, as it appears in article 121 of the treaty of Rome. However, the serious point is that, in that eight-year period, the House can do nothing about the matter. My complaint is that the House of Commons has no influence whatever on the making or suggestion of any amendments to the treaty.
Mr. Maclennan: If I understood the Foreign Secretary correctly, he was making the point that, under the statute, the process for making amendments cannot become operative within seven years. That is certainly long enough to make changes to our domestic procedures to allow effective scrutiny and involvement of the House of Commons and, perhaps, of another place, in the processes of treaty making. I put it no more strongly than that; I am not entirely certain about the matter and would like to have a genuine national debate about whether we want to take away from the Executive the last word in such a matter. However, it is useful to debate the subject, and I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Reigate has tabled the new clause.
I have my doubts about the new clause, but I do not doubt the motive of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) in tabling it. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, there cannot be any amendments until seven years after, I assume, the first 60 ratifications, which will make the treaty operational. As he said, there will probably be eight years until anything can happen, so there will be plenty of opportunities in the House during that period to consider any mechanism for reporting and reviewing the way in which amendments should operate.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) that the way in which the royal prerogative operates in treaty making is important. A central deficit of British constitutional arrangements is the fact that the Executive have always had much more power in international affairs than Parliament. We can legislate and vote only on consequential matters or have a vote of confidence in the Government, which are fairly blunt instruments for dealing with international affairs. There is no mechanism for dealing in a detailed way with the Executive's treaty making. A new Parliament will provide a good opportunity to review that.
When the Minister replies, will he comment on the reporting of what British representatives do in international organisations? There are many international forums, such as the United Nations and various UN and UN-related bodies, including the International Labour Organisation, the Human Rights Commission and many others, in which British representatives participate in debates and resolutions and agree decisions. At the end of the day, those things are fairly open, but there is no proper mechanism for reporting to the House--other than on the most dramatic events--what British representatives do. Any review ought to say that there should be a method of parliamentary scrutiny and, possibly, parliamentary involvement in such matters. It is all a question of how accountable we make the Executive in international matters.
When the Bill is enacted, we will cede quite a lot to an international court. Frankly, I wish that we were ceding more because there are weaknesses in the Bill, which I have tried to address in a couple of amendments. Generally speaking, we are establishing the principle of an international body to deal with criminals, or potential criminals, in a way that has not been possible so far unless, as I mentioned earlier, a special process was established, such as that for dealing with the situation in Germany, Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. There is a case for setting up such a body, and I hope that we agree to it. However, I suspect that, in his new clause, the hon. Member for Reigate is confusing two different things. He is saying that there should be more scrutiny--I agree with that--but he is also saying that matters should come back to Parliament if there is going to be any change in statute. There will be no change in the statute for the first seven years of the treaty becoming operational, so there will be plenty of opportunity to deal with that issue anyway.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): It is perfectly proper for us to discuss the principles and practice of parliamentary deliberation on treaties on the Floor of the House. That is a good and important debate, as the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said frequently in Committee. This afternoon, there has been consensus that we should address that theme. The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) has participated actively in discussion of the Bill to the last moments of his time as a Member of Parliament, and leaves a large challenge to the House to address those matters in a timely way in future.
I want to argue that it may not be proper to use the Bill to change our procedures for scrutinising treaties in the House; the Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for that. The process of scrutiny is a significant question that comes within the ambit of discussion of the Bill. However, the Bill's aim and purpose is to allow us to ratify the statute of Rome and sign up to the International Criminal Court. The new clause is unnecessary, not simply because of the question of time, of which we are well aware, but because amendments to the statue will come before Parliament in the normal course of events. They will come before Parliament in two ways: there will be amendments that require implementation in domestic law, as the statute itself does--for example, on new crimes--or there will be technical changes that do not require primary legislation, but which will still be considered by Parliament before the Government accept them.
The Committee agreed that we should not use the Bill to introduce back-door legislation, and that the Bill should not be a vehicle for redefining criminal law or our criminal court procedure. It would therefore be inappropriate for the new clause to be written into the Bill to shift us in that direction.
Amendments to the statute already fall within the scope of parliamentary procedures for scrutiny, including the Ponsonby rule whereby they must lie before Parliament for 21 days before acceptance. Parliament would have time to debate any issues arising. All treaties and amendments not requiring legislative changes are subject to ministerial accountability to Parliament in exactly the same way as other areas of policy. It is not as though there is no scrutiny; the question is whether there is appropriate scrutiny. That is the larger question. I gave evidence to the Procedure Committee on this subject on 13 July 2000. On that occasion I emphasised that the Government remain open to considering ways of contributing to efficient and effective scrutiny of treaties.
The new clause refers to article 121 of the statute, which provides for changes to the statute only when they are accepted by seven eighths of state parties. That is a high threshold, in addition to the time constraint and the fact that there would be no amendments for seven years. In the light of the discussion, which can be continued more appropriately elsewhere in the House, I ask the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) to withdraw his new clause.