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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

Standing Committee D

Tuesday 10 April 2001


[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

9.55 am

The Chairman: At the request of several male Committee members and to ensure that there are no distractions from the clause-by-clause scrutiny on which we are about to embark, I will allow male Members only to divest themselves of their upper garments.

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


    (1) during proceedings of the Standing Committee on the International Criminal Court Bill [Lords], the Committee do meet—

    (a) on Tuesday 10th April at five minutes to Ten o'clock and half-past Two o'clock, and

    (b) from Tuesday 24th April, on Tuesdays, at half-past Ten o'clock and half-past Four o'clock, and on Thursdays, at five minutes to Ten o'clock and half-past Two o'clock;

    (2) the proceedings on the Bill shall be taken in the following order, namely, Clauses 1 to 24, Schedule 2, Clauses 25 to 28, Schedule 3, Clauses 29 to 34, Schedule 4, Clauses 35 to 37, Schedule 5, Clause 38, Schedule 6, Clauses 39 to 42, Schedule 7, Clauses 43 to 50, Schedule 8, Clauses 51 to 54, Schedule 9, Clauses 55 to 83, Schedule 10, Clause 84, Schedule 1, new Clauses, new Schedules;

    (3) if not previously concluded, the proceedings of the Committee on the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion at Five o'clock on Thursday 3rd May.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cook, and accept your comments as an invitation to take off my jacket, although other upper garments will remain in place. All Committee members look forward to working under your careful stewardship and the usual impartial, relaxed and humorous style in which you conduct business. I hope that this will be an enjoyable Committee for all members.

The Bill is sizeable, legally complex and technical. Its purpose, as was made clear in the excellent Second Reading debate, is to enable Britain to sign up properly to the Rome statute on the International Criminal Court. In moving the programme motion, I should make it plain that there is some urgency about the matter, hence we are programming the Committee to ensure that there is proper consideration and debate of all the clauses, with flexibility to allow the Opposition to table searching amendments, to which we look forward.

There is a sense of urgency because other countries are moving ahead. The Swiss Parliament recommended on 13 March that its Government ratify the Rome statute, and the Croatian Parliament passed a law of ratification on 28 March. There is urgency also because we have been heavily engaged in the formative stages of the court and negotiating the details to get it established. We want to be one of the early signatories—among the first 60.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I am not sure that I follow the logic of the Minister's argument. In support of his assertion that the Bill is urgent, he cites the fact that Croatia and Switzerland have signed up. He must understand that there is a huge difference between Croatia and Switzerland and the United Kingdom. They are not players in the international peacekeeping or peace-enforcement efforts in which the United Kingdom is engaged; they are bit-part players at best.

Mr. Battle: I could read out a list of all 29 countries that have ratified already, but I am simply letting the Committee know the latest signatories. We want to be the next signatory, or at least to be in the first 60. There are many other significant players in the 29, but we need 60 to get the court up and running. We want to be involved at the formative stage so that we can help to shape the court's future. We can be proud of the pivotal contribution that the UK has made to the court's creation. The programme motion, which we discussed last night when setting out the timetable, should allow us to achieve our objectives.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Minister makes the case for getting on with the debate, which I assume is central to his argument about the programme motion. However, we should be clear that the reason that we need to get on is to ensure that this country enjoys the same degree of influence as San Marino, which has a population of 27,000 people.

Mr. Battle: We have greater influence than San Marino; we have certainly had more influence on the court's formation.

The programme motion enables us to discuss the Bill for longer than Opposition amendments were debated in the other place. There is more time to discuss the amendments. We are being flexible. The real aim is to allow serious scrutiny of the clauses. We want the Bill to be given careful consideration because we need to get it right. We are all agreed on that. We should not need to feel any pressure of time. The purpose of the programme motion is to enable us to get on so that the Bill does not run into the sand and so that we can be one of the first signatories. That is important because we have significant influence in these matters.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Good morning, Mr. Cook. I echo the Minister's words in welcoming you to the Chair. In our topsy-turvy world, today is a parliamentary Thursday even though it is a Tuesday, so we have an early start this morning. I should like to clarify one point with you: I understand that we have half an hour for the debate on the programming motion; is that half an hour from the start of the debate, or from the start of the Committee?

The Chairman: There are 25 minutes remaining.

Mrs. Gillan: Fine. Obviously it is timed from the start of the Committee. I just wondered, because you kindly allowed the gentlemen to remove their jackets—

The Chairman: Order. Perhaps I should clarify: 25 minutes was the maximum time left. It is now 24 minutes, and counting.

Mrs. Gillan: Thank you, Mr. Cook. I just wondered whether pronouncements from the Chair were included in that time.

It will come as no surprise to the Minister of State and his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General to learn that, although the Minister made what he believes is a case for the motion that was put before the Programming Sub-Committee, we object to programming motions per se. Quite frankly, his justification that there is some urgency to this matter is beyond belief: the Bill could have been introduced at a much earlier stage in this Parliament. However, it has been introduced at the 11th hour, which will cause problems, and in the usual fashion—that is, accompanied by a heavy-handed programme motion that will not give the Opposition the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill in a civilised manner.

The Bill could have been brought to fruition by agreement between the parties. As we have said repeatedly, both in the other place and in debates in the Chamber, there is no difference between us on the principles behind the Bill: we all want the perpetrators of vicious and wicked crimes to be brought to justice. However, there are issues and details on which we need clarification and reassurance. There are also people outwith Parliament who want to be able to set their daily routine against the certainty of the Government's backing and the words that Ministers utter during examination of the Bill. Such people include those who serve in the armed services, on whom we rely so greatly.

Programme motions are sometimes used to restrict debate. I do not suggest that today's motion is such a case, because it makes allowance for 10 sittings if all goes well. However, 3 May is an arbitrary date for the finish of the Committee. One can only assume that it fits conveniently with any timetable that the Government have for a general election on 7 June—that is not the best kept secret in the world. The fact that there is a programme motion does not guarantee that there will be 10 sittings or that there will be enough time for debate. I do not say that that will be so, but there is a possibility that it might be.

On Second Reading when challenged by me on this point the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), an eminent Member of Parliament who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, admitted that

    ``Of course there is no guarantee of 10 sittings, but the Government would lay themselves open to criticism if they did not give adequate time for debate.''—[Official Report, 3 April 2001; Vol. 366, c. 289.]

In fact, even though the Government have tabled a programme motion, it is not in their power to guarantee the time allowed, because there are forces outwith the Committee and the Government's control that might impinge on the time for debate. The calling of a general election, for example, is in the hands not of the Government, but of one man—the Prime Minister. He may decide to call an election early and thereby curtail debate on the Bill. A state of emergency or other event could impinge on the Bill's passage. Far be it from me to suggest this, Mr. Cook, but the Chairman of the Committee might unaccountably be detained and not show up. I believe that there is no mechanism in the Standing Orders of the House for reclaiming lost time on the debate and scrutiny of any Bill.

Another depressing aspect of the timetable motion is that it has second-guessed any amendments that may be tabled and any discussions that hon. Members may wish to have. The motion was put in train long before amendments were tabled by the Government, those on the Back Benches or, indeed, the Liberal Democrats. I do not believe that they have a representative here.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East): What about Crispin?

Mrs. Gillan: The Whip suggests my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), but I think not—the Whip's eyes probably need testing.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: More like his brain.

Mrs. Gillan: Do not tempt me.

Programme motions are tabled before there has been a chance to see what amendments have been tabled, and long before you, in your wisdom, selected amendments, Mr. Cook. The whole proposition of a programme motion is bankrupt if it infringes on the parliamentary freedoms of scrutiny and debate.

The timetable certainly gives me the impression that the Government do not expect to amend the legislation in this House. That shows arrogance, because several amendments had to be tabled by a Minister in another place to remedy imperfections that were discovered during the Bill's passage through that House. The motion does not give much time for the Bill to pass through its remaining stages, or, if an amendment is accepted in Committee, for it to return to the other place in the normal fashion. Perhaps the Minister can explain why this timetable has been chosen and why 3 May has been chosen so arbitrarily.

Something else that is novel to me, and perhaps to the rest of the Committee, needs to be explained: how does the programming procedure dovetail with the procedure for the Bill that is just starting its passage in the Scottish Parliament? The Bill was laid before the Scottish Parliament only on 4 April—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—but that Parliament, with its Liberal-Labour coalition, has gone off early and is now in recess.


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