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Mr. Blunt: The Government should call our bluff.

Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the new clause is a bluff. It will be called.

Mr. Maude: The hon. Gentleman has said that the Opposition are simply looking for a reason to vote against the Bill. That is not the case: we are concerned with the Bill as it stands. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) noted that Britain, like the United States and France, is one of the few countries that consistently deploys troops abroad. Does the hon. Gentleman consider it unprincipled of France to want protection for its armed forces when they are deployed internationally? Does he consider President Clinton unprincipled because, until the last moment, he refused to sign the statute in its current form--and then recommended that his successor did not ratify the statute?

Mr. Browne: I am not privy to the motivations of other countries or their leaders. I am not prepared to speculate, but I have been present through every minute of parliamentary deliberation on this Bill, on the Floor of

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the House and in Committee. The right hon. Member for Horsham cannot say as much. I have been present to hear the arguments and to test them.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham: My right hon. Friend has been able to read the debates.

Mr. Browne: The question is not whether the right hon. Gentleman can read the arguments: sometimes it is more important to see the expressions on people's faces, and their body language, when they speak. I have been present at all the debates, and I have come to a view on that informed basis. I have not had the opportunity to spend the same amount of time with President Clinton or the French Government. If I had had that opportunity, I would have been able to reach an informed view on the matters raised by the right hon. Gentleman. I therefore do not accept his invitation to speculate.

However, I suspect that the French know how much protection the reservation under article 124 will give their armed forces. I also suspect that the right hon. Member for Horsham did not know that when he first moved the new clause at the Dispatch Box, because it had to be pointed out to him that it applies only to article 8--not to crimes alleged to have been committed in contravention of articles 6 or 7.

Therefore, even if the right hon. Gentleman were to succeed in getting the new clause accepted, how could he tell our armed forces that they would never, over the seven-year period, be subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, or to the possibility of such jurisdiction? It is for the very reason that our armed forces might be subject to ICC jurisdiction that the whole of the court's jurisdiction should apply to Britain. In that way, we can ensure that the jurisdiction develops in the way that we want it to, in accordance with the standards that I described earlier.

For all those reasons, which I think are principled and logical, I oppose the new clause. Fundamentally, however, I oppose it to expose the reality behind it. The new clause is simply an excuse for Conservative Members to vote against the Bill.

5.15 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I strongly support the case so ably made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) in moving the new clause. It is vital, for a number of reasons.

Like the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), I was present at most of the Committee's sittings. As the Minister said, we had a constructive debate. The Minister was good enough to acknowledge that the issues raised by the Opposition were serious and that we had not been frivolous or wasted time. If we repeat some of the arguments that were advanced in Committee, it is only so that the House more widely should recognise that we had serious and responsible debates in Committee.

We are not talking about an ad-hoc tribunal such as that for Yugoslavia. The Bill will set up a supranational court for all time--that is what is so important. Protections have been built in, but there will be severe limitations on the influence that the United Kingdom can bring to bear over the passage of time. It is therefore right and proper for the

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House of Commons to consider most carefully the Bill's implications. Indeed, it would be a denial of our duty to the people of this country not to do so.

The new clause seeks to give the Government--the next Conservative Government on 8 June, and the one after that--time to see how the court will evolve, given all the implications that it will have for our armed forces. The court will not be cast in stone for all time but evolve, and we will have very little influence over that evolution. We have already discussed at some length how the House will have very little influence over the decisions made by the Government in representing the British case as to how the court develops.

There are three issues at stake and three reasons why I believe that the new clause should be accepted. First, it is the primary responsibility of the House to ensure that we give every possible protection to Her Majesty's armed forces. They are charged with the responsibility, by this House--and, more directly, by the Government of the day--to carry out the wishes of the House and the Government in defending our national interests abroad and defending our territory at home. Members of our armed forces join up with the very real prospect that they may be called upon to lay down their lives for their country--not something that those of us who stand successfully for re-election on 7 June will be called upon to do.

My right hon. Friend drew attention to the remarks of the Chief of the Defence Staff. I have met him only once, but I believe him to be an extremely able man. I would prefer to rely on his judgment, I am afraid, than that of the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). Sir Michael Boyce has served with distinction in our armed forces. He understands what our armed forces are called upon to do, and he understands the implications. Ultimately, it will be his responsibility to carry out the wishes of the Government of the day. Therefore, it seems better to rely on his words than on those of probably any Member of the House.

I do not accuse the Government of indifference to the consequences for our armed forces of the passage of the Bill. However, as the Member for Aldershot--the home of the British Army--I think that the Government have not given full consideration to them. I do not refer to the way that the court would handle an accusation that members of Her Majesty's armed forces had contravened the articles of the statute of Rome, but to the evolution of the court--how things might occur in future and how our armed forces might be subject to such events.

Although there are members of the armed services in the constituency of every right hon. and hon. Member, and we all owe them a duty, I believe that the Conservative party has always been much more in tune with the concerns and needs of the armed forces. Labour Members may disagree, but that is my view.

My second point is that, in Committee, the Minister made great play of the fact that our armed forces would never be called on to face charges under the legislation. As the Foreign Secretary reminded us earlier, on Second Reading he said:

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Mr. Robin Cook indicated assent.

Mr. Howarth: The Foreign Secretary nods in agreement.

However, the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham, which I want to emphasise to the Foreign Secretary, is that the Government are in no position to make that unequivocal guarantee. The Government rely on the principle of complementarity--a ghastly word that has been introduced specifically for this statute and its incorporation in United Kingdom law. That means that the United Kingdom will first hear any allegation made against a member of Her Majesty's forces. However, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister know that, under article 17 of the Rome statute, headed "Issues of admissibility", a case would be inadmissible where

But a caveat follows:

The Foreign Secretary cannot tell us today that, in 10 or 15 years, the ICC may not take a contrary view. For example, what would happen if the United Kingdom decided that a military operation involving substantial loss of civilian life was none the less not a war crime under the measure, but the ICC took a different view? I speculate, but I am entitled to do so. If we decided not to prosecute in such a case, the court could say that, although the United Kingdom was unwilling to prosecute, the military operation was excessive and did not justify the resulting loss of civilian life. The people involved--possibly even our Prime Minister--could be brought before the court.

Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman and I took part in some interesting debates in Committee. He raises an important point of principle in respect of the establishment of an international criminal court of any description, never mind the one that we are discussing. Against the standard that he sets, we cannot give our armed forces an unequivocal guarantee that they will not be brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which exercises a jurisdiction that is not complementary to but supersedes that of our domestic courts. Should we therefore withdraw our forces from their peacekeeping work in the former Yugoslavia?

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