International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Browne: I suspect that if that question required an answer, you would say that it was a matter for me, Mr. Cook.

The hon. Gentleman makes great play of ``indecent haste''. Does he recollect a debate that took place on 27 October 1999 in the Chamber of the House at the instigation of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), in which the Front-Bench spokesperson for the Opposition castigated the Government for the delay in producing a Bill? The hon. Gentleman reminds us that he is a member of the Conservative party. This may be another example of a split within Conservative party, but I do not want to intrude on personal grief.

It would help us to assess the hon. Gentleman's support for the amendment if he were prepared to tell us in a preamble such as the hon. Member for Reigate gave us that he supports in principle the International Criminal Court.

12.30 pm

The Chairman: Order. I have been very lenient and tolerant this morning because the standard of the debate has been extraordinarily high and it is important that the flow of the game not be impeded by an unreasonable referee. However, interventions must be a good deal shorter, and I do not want any further rehearsing of programming motions or Second Reading. Can we stick to the amendment, please?

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to you, Mr. Cook, for that advice, which I fully intend to follow.

In answer to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, I am bound to say that I do have reservations. As the debate progresses and the international events develop, my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench review the position of the official Opposition on the legislation. Unlike the Labour party, the Conservative party does not consist of a bunch of control freaks. We believe in examining the arguments, and we have. That is why we have entered some reservations.

I made my position clear to the hon. Gentleman: I am in favour of finding a way of bringing to justice those who we all believe have committed the most reprehensible crimes. The duty of the Committee is, on the one hand, to ensure that we are able to do that but, on the other hand, to do so without imperilling those troops who we call upon—who the hon. Gentleman calls upon—to go and potentially lay down their lives for him and this country. It is right and proper that we should ensure that we have every possible protection for our troops. That is the position of the Opposition. We believe that protection should be provided. On the other side is an indecent haste to get the legislation on the statute book.

What I am really concerned about is the staggering gullibility of some of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I was absolutely staggered by the naivety of the Solicitor-General as far as the Yugoslav prosecutor is concerned. He said that she had decided that what the Royal Air Force and the United States air force did in Belgrade was all right. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate pointed out that that is an entirely subjective view held by that prosecutor. We in the House cannot operate on the basis of the whim of a prosecutor. [Interruption.] The Minister is saying that she is the prosecutor, but we are talking about a situation in which there might be a different prosecutor.

My hon. Friend pointed out the mechanism by which the prosecutor would be elected and the dangers of that process of election, which could turn out a prosecutor not like the prosecutor in the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, but some other person with a different axe to grind. That is why my hon. Friend pointed to the two different lists of the qualities required of the lawyers who sit as judges.

Mr. Battle: The hon. Gentleman's comments seem to indicate that the prosecutor is just a bystander—a person offering individual comment, like a commentator on a football match on radio or television. I believe that the expression he used was a person with an axe to grind. He should respect the fact that the prosecutor has a specific legal function and is bound within the context of laws to carry out certain duties objectively. That is the whole point.

Mr. Howarth: I understand that, but the Minister is being slightly perverse.

Law is a matter of interpretation. When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is not attending so assiduously to his duties here and in his constituency, he is making a judgment. We are concerned about the mechanism by which those who will exercise judgment are appointed.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I hope that I do not abandon my judgment when I come here.

Mr. Howarth: Indeed not. My hon. and learned Friend brings to bear an acute judgment from which the House is privileged to benefit.

It is the mechanism by which the judges are appointed that causes us anxiety. We are worried that those who are not the most objective and best qualified might be appointed. The hon. Member for Ilford, South, who is vulnerable when it comes to matters involving Israel—

Mr. Gapes: On a point of order, Mr. Cook. The hon. Gentleman is making a disgraceful attempt to introduce ethnic and racial politics into the discussion. For his information, I am not Jewish, although he seems to think that it would be an insult if I were. I am a supporter of Israel and I hate anti-Semitism from the hon. Gentleman or from anyone else.

The Chairman: The hon. Member for Aldershot may have been referring to the amendments rather than to members of the Committee personally. In any case, it is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Blunt: Further to that point of order, Mr. Cook. I fear that underlying the point of order from the hon. Member for Ilford, South was an accusation of anti-Semitism on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot.

Mr. Gapes: Yes.

Mr. Blunt: The hon. Gentleman has now confirmed that. It is disgraceful and that accusation should be withdrawn.

Mr. Howarth: Further to that point of order, Mr. Cook. The hon. Gentleman has accused me of anti-Semitism. I find that deeply reprehensible. I have some extremely good Jewish friends who would resent the imputation that the hon. Gentleman has laid against me. I have not a clue whether or not he is Jewish.

The Chairman: I am getting the picture clearly—if I ever had any difficulty before. Let us all hold our breath for about 10 seconds and realise that nothing was meant personally. Would the hon. Member for Ilford, South care to comment on that?

Mr. Gapes: I do not wish to challenge your authority, Mr. Cook, but I interpreted those remarks as being anti-Semitic, and on that basis I cannot withdraw my statement. It is not the first time that I have heard such remarks.

Mr. Howarth: Perhaps it might be best if I were to carry on.

The Chairman: Order. In the circumstances, the use of the term ``anti-Semitic'' was used in a personal sense, whereas the original references were not. I must therefore ask the hon. Member for Ilford, South to reconsider his immediate statement and to withdraw it in the context in which we operate at present.

Mr. Gapes: I accept your interpretation of those words, Mr. Cook. On that basis, I withdraw the remarks in light of your interpretation of them.

Mr. Howarth: I am not sure, Mr. Cook, that that is entirely adequate.

The Chairman: Order. We have settled the matter. For everyone's sake, not only God's, I do not want any further comment on it. Can we proceed with the debate on the amendment?

Mr. Howarth: No. Forgive me, Mr. Cook, but I shall not accept the hon. Gentleman's apology unless he is prepared to withdraw the accusation, which he made from a sedentary position, that I am anti-Semitic. Full stop.

The Chairman: It will be recorded that the hon. Member for Ilford, South has withdrawn the statement under the terms in which I asked him to do it. If that is not acceptable to the hon. Gentleman, I ask him to retain his seat or remove himself from the Room.

Mr. Howarth: I accept your ruling, Mr. Cook, because I have no wish to challenge it. However, I want to make it clear that I am not anti-Semitic, I never have been, I have very splendid Jewish friends, and I did not intend to suggest that the hon. the hon. Member for Ilford, South is Jewish. I do not know whether he is Jewish, and I do not care whether he is Jewish.

If I may continue my remarks, I thought that the hon. Gentleman was vulnerable on the issue of Israel because I heard a programme on the radio the other night about his constituency. I was only going to mention it in passing—I was not suggesting that he was an agent of Israel or anything like that—but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate pointed out, Israel has a problem with international tribunals because it is constantly under attack. I happen to support the right of the state of Israel to exist, I deplore that attacks that have been made on it, and I believe that it was a Conservative Government who ensured that the state of Israel could exist after 2,000 years. We all welcome that.

In an earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Ilford, South dismissed the idea that other nations would gang up on the United Kingdom. I wanted to refute what he said, because, as my hon. Friend pointed out, there is a mechanism that other states could use to gang up not only on the United Kingdom, but on those who are engaged in trying to hold the ring in conflicts around the world. I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the United Kingdom went to recover the Falkland Islands, we did not initially enjoy even the support of the United States, although that support was subsequently forthcoming. It is therefore entirely possible that we could be cast in the wrong for having done what we believed to be right, having charged our troops with the responsibility of carrying out the policy of the United Kingdom Government in trying to restore order in the world.

I urge the Government to accept the amendments. I do not believe that they are wrecking amendments, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun suggested. They would ensure that decisions on prosecution are retained in the United Kingdom. I cannot understand how the Government can assert that there is something wrong in our suggestion that somebody who commits a crime in United Kingdom territory should be subject not to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court but to that of the United Kingdom courts. That seems a perfectly sensible and valid point.

I hope that the Government will accept the amendments, because I believe that they are not wrecking amendments—far from it—and that they help to strengthen the protection that we owe to our armed forces.

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