International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Gerald Howarth: I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, who has made an extremely important contribution to the debate. He has articulated the concerns that many of us have and he has clearly put on the record for posterity the real fears that some of us have about how the legislation could be interpreted in the future. He is entirely right to point out in such a comprehensive manner that the legislation is not for the short term. It is likely to apply for decades to come. We know that existing treaties to which we are bound have caused us difficulty because circumstances have changed since those treaties were originally drawn up and accepted by previous UK Governments. I will not go into all the details of those.

It is important that those who are called upon by the Government, with the support of our Parliament, to risk their lives in pursuit of our nation's interests, whether it be defending our shores or our friends and allies abroad, or indeed, simply trying to restore order, are aware that we value their actions and their commitment. They should be certain that we would not take any action here that might put them at risk of being unfairly subjected to an international tribunal when they were acting on instructions in accordance with all the rules laid down by the British Government.

12.15 pm

As all members of the Committee will know, serious concerns have been raised by some of our most senior members of the armed forces, not least the new Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce. It is not an academic issue in the United Kingdom, but it is clearly an academic issue in Luxembourg, San Marino or some of those other states that have been so keen to sign up to this treaty. It is not of merely academic interest to the UK, France or the United States of America because we have been leaders in deploying our troops in conflicts that have arisen since the second world war around the world.

In the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall, conflagrations have broken out in parts of the world where we have felt that it is in the interests of the new world order for us to be involved. We have put our troops at risk, first to restore stability and then to police it. The Balkans are an obvious example. Cyprus is a continuing example where we maintain troops as part of an endeavour to maintain stability in that part of the Mediterranean. Sierra Leone, too, is another example. The list is growing and there are few places from which we are withdrawing; we are constantly adding to that list and therefore more and more of our troops are becoming involved.

That is why reservations have been entered by the French Government. We all know about the concerns being expressed by the United States Government. I do not believe that it is chauvinistic of us to raise all the concerns that my hon. Friend has so comprehensively and clearly registered. We are defending our own interests because we are a nation that is committing substantial numbers of troops who would be the people at risk of prosecution were this well-intentioned endeavour to go wrong.

Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman speaks in support of the amendments. It would be helpful to those of us who are trying to evaluate the quality of that support if he could express the general support that his hon. Friend gave for the principle of the International Criminal Court. Does he agree with the ICC in principle and does he agree that, whatever qualifications there may be, it should have jurisdiction over our armed forces?

I have listened—with interest, in view of his background and his constituency—to the hon. Gentleman speak before about the concerns that some members of our armed forces may have. Was he present at the meeting of One World Trust where Anthony Rogers, a former director of Army legal services, spoke with some authority and experience about the ICC? Among other things, he said:

    ``Some of the war crimes listed will be of concern to military operations staff because they relate to cases of excessive incidental damage, for example `intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life...which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.' However, the qualifying words `intentionally', `in the knowledge', `clearly' and `overall' should ensure that only the most obvious cases would come before a court and that military commanders doing their best in difficult circumstances to comply with the law of armed conflict will have nothing to fear.''

Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with that informed and experienced view from a former director of Army legal services?

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I was not at the meeting, so I am not aware of what was said there. I heard the hon. Gentleman's point, but I return to a word that was used earlier—confidence. Can we have confidence in the court? Some of us have serious concerns as to whether we will be able to do so. We will debate the various crimes that are listed in the Bill later: I have tabled some amendments to that part, and that is probably the appropriate time to deal with the matter.

The hon. Gentleman gave the view of one man. Of course, superficially, there should be no concerns. However, surely he heard my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate set out the difficulties that could arise if the court were not to act properly. My hon. Friend pointed out that the mechanism by which the court is established leads to the possibility that, through horse-trading, people who would not see things the same way as we would could be appointed to positions of influence. In circumstances of differences of interpretation, there could be serious consequences for our armed forces.

Mrs. Ellman: Can the hon. Gentleman define more precisely what he means by ``we'' in the context of the ICC?

Mr. Howarth: I am not sure what the hon. Lady means. I have concerns, some of which are shared by others. As far as ``we'' is concerned, I am talking about the United Kingdom and a common view that most of us hold that what we did in Kosovo, Belgrade and Iraq was necessary. Others around the world took a different view and felt that we should have not intervened in Iraq in the way that we did pursuant to our obligations to Kuwait.

We are talking about serious issues that have practical implications for our armed forces. Our duty is to consider all possible ways in which the legislation could be interpreted and the way in which the court could act. That is not to say that we are wholly against the principle of establishing a court in which tyrants and those who persecute innocent people can be brought to justice. We are trying to tread a tightrope, ensuring that there is a mechanism by which dictators and tyrants who are guilty of the most appalling atrocities may be brought to justice when there is a common view that those are appalling atrocities. The problem is that such people do not sign up to international conventions—by definition, they do not care about the rule of law or conventions of warfare, and they are not interested in human rights.

The problem is to provide a mechanism for dealing with such people without producing arrangements that disadvantage bodies that are trying to bring the people who act in these atrocious ways to justice. We need to proceed without tying the hands of our troops, imperilling our armed forces or putting our own Government at risk. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate tabled the amendment that brings matters back to the United Kingdom.

To make it clear in words of one syllable, article 17.1(b) of the Rome statute states that a case is inadmissible if

    ``The case has been investigated by a State which has jurisdiction over it and the State has decided not to prosecute the person concerned, unless the decision resulted from the unwillingness or inability of the State genuinely to prosecute''.

If the United Kingdom has decided that it is not right to prosecute, we want to prevent the ICC from having further jurisdiction over us. If the UK authorities have considered the matter, should another court be able to supplant our judgment with its own?

Mr. Worthington: I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman, but I am still not clear on where he stands. I understand the position of the hon. Member for Reigate who basically supports the Bill, warts and all. Does the hon. Member for Aldershot support the Bill as it stands?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman seeks to curtail debate by trying to establish that. The Conservative party has declared itself, in principle, to be supportive of the concept—[Hon. Members: ``What about you?''] I am a member of the Conservative party. The principal function of the Committee is to analyse in detail the ramifications of the Bill. Conservative Front Benchers have made it clear that, unless certain amendments are accepted, Her Majesty's Opposition will oppose the Bill on Third Reading. That is the Conservative party's position.

What remains of concern, especially to people in the armed forces, is the indecent haste with which the Government want to ratify this treaty, knowing as they do the serious reservations of the United States of America and the open hostility of the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jesse Helms. America is, in common with the United Kingdom, frequently called on to commit its troops in proportion not to the possibility of hostilities, but to the reality and probability of conflict. I personally object to the Government's indecent haste to ratify the treaty. They well know that a general election will take place shortly and it is undesirable and improper of them to proceed—

Mr. Browne rose—

Mr. Howarth: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman intends to make a speech, or whether he intends to spend all his time intervening on my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate and me. Of course, I give way to him.

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