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Mr. Gerald Howarth: I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants Senator Pinochet to appear before the International Criminal Court, but does he want the President of China to appear before it too?

Mr. Corbyn: Although the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Standing Committee and I was not, I have pointed out to him on many occasions that it is not retrospective legislation. If any country that signs up to the treaty is accused of violations of human rights or matters that would bring it within the purview of the International Criminal Court, it should be brought within its purview. That is the basis of the process.

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The idea that we should ask for an exemption for our armed forces is ridiculous. If we ask for that exemption, who are we to oppose anyone else's exemption? My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) pointed out--many of us have--the consequences of our asking for an exemption. What would happen if Indonesia said that it was happy to sign the treaty, but would not, at any stage, allow the Indonesian armed forces--many of us have seen what they are capable of in East Timor and other places--to be exposed to any prosecution under the law? That would be a joke, and everyone would know it.

It is important that all institutions are covered by the court, but we should remember that many of the worst violations of human rights are not carried out by statutory armed forces but by militia forces acting more or less on behalf of the armed forces. Let us consider what happened in East Timor, and is now happening in Aceh and West Papua in Indonesia, or events in Colombia. There are many other examples of armies and regimes using militia forces to carry out the most appalling violations of human rights.

The House has an opportunity today to allow the Bill to proceed. I regret the exemptions that are included in the Bill and that we shall not have time to debate them. I hope that, in another Parliament, we shall be able to return to the issue and deal with those exemptions, because I do not believe that the power of discretion that is held by the Attorney-General and the Foreign Secretary is necessarily within the spirit of the Bill's origins.

Mr. Maude: The hon. Gentleman referred to Indonesia, but does he not understand the position that Britain is in? Britain is one of the three western countries that consistently and properly deploy their troops abroad in peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. The other two are France and America, and Socialist Prime Minister Jospin and the former Democrat President Clinton have both seen grave dangers in subjecting their armed forces, which are involved in such operations, to the jurisdiction of the court. Why does he think that Britain's armed forces should uniquely in this group of three internationally oriented sets of armed forces be put in jeopardy in this way?

Mr. Corbyn: If we believe in the rule of law, in international conventions and in the power of a democracy to control its armed forces, what have we got to be afraid of? We should sign up to the treaty in its entirety.

It is obviously true that British armed forces are involved in various parts of the world. I sometimes wish that they were not. They are not always under the control of the United Nations; sometimes they are under NATO command. We are not the only country to deploy forces elsewhere. India, Ireland, Sweden and Canada do the same. Many not so large countries have often made significant contributions to the work of the UN. I hear no arguments from them that their armed forces should be exempt. We should reject the Opposition's isolationist arguments and the new clause. We need to put the Bill on the statute book and return to it so that it can be improved.

Mr. Battle: The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) was gracious enough to suggest that we had an important and serious debate on these matters in

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Committee. That is also true of today's debate. New clause 3 is bit of a misnomer--it is actually a retread of a new clause that was discussed in Committee. Nevertheless, the debate has been rigorous, with good and telling contributions not least from my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) and the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan).

The purpose of the new clause is to bind the Government to the opt-out for war crimes under article 124 of the Rome statute. It is a delaying measure. The more I listened to the debate, the more convinced I became that the Conservatives are not behind the Bill's principles. Contrary to their arguments, we have every reason to be bound by the provisions of article 8 of the ICC statute. The crimes set out in that article are already crimes in international law. That message has not gone home. Many were incorporated into domestic law by previous Conservative Administrations under the Acts to implement the Geneva conventions. Why do they want to tear them up? I was slightly surprised by the tone and direction of the debate.

Our armed forces already abide by those rules, against which their rules of engagement are drawn up and their conduct is judged. They are the rules by which they operate and, I believe, by which they excel in the practice of their duties. British troops serving in Bosnia or Kosovo are subject to international jurisdiction, which investigates allegations of the same crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia is a good example to consider. The international jurisdiction has not hampered its operations, as some hon. Members suggested. We need to be more positive and say that without this measure, our armed forces will be hampered. We are providing positive protection to give them full and proper back-up. We are not undermining them, but strengthening the protection of our service personnel against others who will not abide by international law.

It is critical that we reject the new clause. It is also important to demonstrate leadership and stand up for the rule of law around the world. This country and its armed forces have been doing that on a daily basis for years. We should support them.

Mr. Blunt: Perhaps the Minister could explain why the French have made at least eight definitional declarations about what article 8 means in their declarations on signing the treaty.

Mr. Battle: I am happy to discuss France. The hon. Gentleman has followed our debates in detail and I am sure that he is aware that article 8 crimes are drawn from the first additional protocol of the Geneva conventions. Almost alone among NATO members, France has not signed that protocol. I suspect that its caution can be ascribed to that fact. However, we have signed and ratified the protocol. Indeed, that was done by the previous Administration. If they signed us up to the Geneva conventions, which are implemented in international law, there is no reason why we should not move forward and implement the ICC statute.

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I told the House that if we exercise the opt-out, we will send the most appalling signal to those countries that we want to encourage to build the international institution and ensure that it is properly supported. On the Rome statute, Lord Kingsland said:

Even the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson in another place argued and agreed that there should not be an opt-out. I am surprised that the Opposition spokesperson in this place does not agree with what has been going on down the Corridor in the House of Lords.

The ICC poses no threat to our armed forces. It will have no impact on their rules of engagement. It will make no change to the fundamental laws of war under which our armed forces already operate, and which are part of the daily training of every British serving officer. The Ministry of Defence has been engaged at every stage in the elaboration of the statute and in the drafting of the Bill. It is content that the Bill gives full protection to our armed services.

I remind the Opposition that the former head of the Army legal services, Major General Tony Rogers, said:

He added:

The same point has been made by others, and I shall give an example. The hon. Member for Aldershot wanted to quote American examples. If he were to read the Harvard International Law Journal, he would find that Jocknick and Normand have written:

General Colin Powell commented that the decisions were impacted on by legal considerations at every level and that the law of war proved invaluable in the decision-making process.

5.45 pm

Judge Richard Goldstone, the former prosecutor of the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, commented "I have no doubts that the fears are without justification at all. Firstly, the war crimes defined in the Rome statute are really the most serious war crimes internationally committed." We should remember that. We are talking about crimes of genocide--crimes against humanity. These are megacrimes. The judge added "In the second place, the ICC will not have jurisdiction at all over a British citizen if the British military and civil courts investigate in good faith any allegations made."

Ten current and former presidents of the United States Society of International Law, replying precisely to the letter that the hon. Member for Aldershot read out and prayed in aid, said:

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Similarly, what we are doing is not new and is not a newly minted principle. We are continuing the proud and honourable role that the United Kingdom has played in the development and enforcement of international humanitarian law. We have a history and a tradition that go back to the 17th century of drawing up rules of engagement, and we have been proud to be part of that process.

Britain has played a full part in the development of the laws of war. It was Conservative Governments who passed the relevant legislation in 1957 and 1995 that enabled the ratification of the Geneva conventions and the additional protocols.

There have been some interesting exchanges during this debate. The more the shadow Foreign Secretary was challenged by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the more his arguments were exposed. He does not simply have reservations about the details of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman demonstrated that the Conservatives oppose the Bill in principle and that their amendments are stalking horses for blocking it and ensuring that it does not take its place on the statute book. I recommend that we reject the new clause.

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