International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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The Solicitor-General: The legislation appears to deal only with faxes, so it might not be completely up to date. I think that the matter has been debated. The issue of e-mails might be more thoroughly addressed in the future, but they would be covered by the legislation if they were confirmed by fax. However, I concede that we are not up to date. That is generally the case with regard to court procedures: e-mails are not recognised as serving documents. We will have to make progress on such matters.

Mrs. Gillan: I am glad that the Minister has acceded to a point. It is a simple matter but important, especially bearing in mind the accelerating pace of advances in communications. I am unsure whether the matter can be resolved, but it is not contentious. If it could be dealt with by, for example, a small technical amendment, my party would be pleased to accept that. However, it is crazy that a Bill that is intended to address the long-term future does not deal with a form of communication that is readily available and increasingly used by Governments here and abroad. After all, e-mail is a cost-effective way of communicating.

Mr. Garnier: Would my hon. Friend accept that the easiest way to deal with the matter might be for rules to be provided for via secondary legislation? That would allow for the proper making of procedures, so that the delivery of instruments and so forth could be properly set out under subsidiary rule-making powers. Perhaps my hon. Friend or the Government are attracted to that proposal.

Mrs. Gillan: I am willing to explore with the Government any possibility that would allow for modern communications to facilitate swifter contact between organisations. If my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion found merit in the Government's eyes, I would give it my support, although Ministers will want to consider his proposal further before agreeing to it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Jurisdiction of the court

    `.—This Act shall have effect, subject to the making of a declaration by Her Majesty's Government in accordance with Article 124 of the ICC Statute, with the proviso that for a period of seven years after the entry into force of the Statute the United Kingdom does not accept the jurisdiction of the Court with respect to the category of crimes referred to in Article 8 when such crimes are alleged to have been committed by United Kingdom nationals or on United Kingdom territory.'.—[Mrs. Gillan.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs. Gillan: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following: new clause 5—Ratification: reservations and declarations—

    `The Secretary of State shall not ratify the ICC Statute unless—

    (a) a report is laid before Parliament, setting out—

    (i) any reservations Her Majesty's Government proposes to make and the reason for those reservations,

    (ii) any declarations Her Majesty's Government proposes to make and the reason for such declarations, and

    (iii) that report is approved by each House of Parliament.'.

New clause 7—Declaration upon ratification—

    `This Act shall have effect subject to the making of a declaration by Her Majesty's Government upon ratification, to be deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations, as follows—

    ``Her Majesty's Government, being cognizant of the declaration upon signature by the Government of the State of Israel, will itself reject attempts to interpret its provisions in a politically motivated manner against actions of the United Kingdom and its citizens. Her Majesty's Government hopes that the United Kingdom's expressions of concern at the consequences of politicization of the intended central impartial body will help prevent the undermining of the objectives of the Statute.''.'.

Mrs. Gillan: I thank Ministers for proposing that the discussion of the new clauses be brought forward, as it will ensure that we have the opportunity to examine properly the important issues and principles that they raise, which might otherwise have been addressed only at the tail end of the scrutiny of the Bill. I hope that discussing them at this stage will mean that they are not rushed through, but thoroughly aired in Committee. The issues that they raise have been discussed in another place, but bear further discussion in Committee, not least because of the concerns raised by those observing our proceedings, of whom I know the Minister is aware.

Mr. Battle: I did not formally propose to bring forward the new clauses, but it is fair to say that we had a conversation with the Opposition in which they suggested that it made more common sense to deal with them at this juncture. We reached mutual agreement on that point, as it will enable us to raise some of the important matters discussed in the other place in the context of the Bill before us. Otherwise new clauses will be tagged on at the end, after the debate is already halfway through. That was the amicable arrangement to which we came, and why we are discussing them now.

Mrs. Gillan: I do not dispute that at all—quite the reverse. There was merit in the way in which business was ordered in the other place, whereby the new clause came before consideration clause 1, rightly taking precedence, and was discussed at the beginning of the Committee rather than halfway through. However, I agree that the compromise seems to be the most sensible arrangement. I am glad that debate on the new clause has fallen to be discussed today, rather than on Thursday afternoon when the guillotine falls. While on that subject, I cannot help but say that it is a shame that we had to have a programme motion. Some accommodation on the Bill's timetabling could have been reached between the Front Bench members of the Committee and avoided the heavy-handed mechanism of the programming motion that now appears to attach to every Bill.

The Chairman: Order. We are in danger of being unduly repetitious. Please can we move on to the new clauses?

Mrs. Gillan: I would hate to repeat myself, Mr. Cook. I would hate to repeat myself. [Laughter.]

New clause 1 relates to the jurisdiction of the court. The new clause states:

    ``.—This Act shall have effect, subject to the making of a declaration by Her Majesty's Government in accordance with Article 124 of the ICC Statute, with the proviso that for a period of seven years after the entry into force of the Statute the United Kingdom does not accept the jurisdiction of the Court with respect to the category of crimes referred to in Article 8 when such crimes are alleged to have been committed by United Kingdom nationals or on United Kingdom territory.''

The new clause would secure us a seven-year opt-out from the offence of war crimes, as has happened in other countries. The matter is of such significance that we must consider article 124 of the Statute, which is described as the ``Transitional Provision''.

Throughout debate in the other place, we felt that the Minister failed adequately to answer the concerns expressed by ourselves and others. We certainly would not want to give the impression that we do not welcome measures that will bring to book those who have committed crimes against humanity, but when the treaty on which the legislation relies—indeed, which it is designed to duplicate, without any changes—contains such a provision, it seems a crying shame that we do not use the article provided, which will give the French a seven-year opt-out, during which time they will have the opportunity to see how the court progresses. If we were to adopt the same route, it would ensure that British citizens, and particularly members of our armed forces, were protected in a way that strikes us as desirable.

12.15 pm

Article 124 states:

    ``Notwithstanding article 12, paragraphs 1 and 2, a State, on becoming a party to this Statute, may declare that, for a period of seven years after the entry into force of this Statute for the State concerned, it does not accept the jurisdiction of the Court with respect to the category of crimes referred to in article 8 when a crime is alleged to have been committed by its nationals or on its territory. A declaration under this article may be withdrawn at any time. The provisions of this article shall be reviewed at the Review Conference convened in accordance with article 123, paragraph 1.''

Article 123.1, states that:

    ``Seven years after the entry into force of this Statute the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall convene a Review Conference to consider any amendments to this Statute. Such review may include, but is not limited to, the list of crimes contained in article 5. The Conference shall be open to those participating in the Assembly of States Parties and on the same conditions.''

The Government set out their position on the seven-year opt-out in characteristically brief terms. They appeared to have a closed mind and to be unwilling to discuss the matter. I refer to the International Criminal Court consultation on draft legislation, published only in August 2000 by the Department, in which the draft Bill was set out. Page 7 states:

    ``The Bill makes no provision for the UK to take advantage of the seven-year opt-out for war crimes provided for in Article 124 of the Statute. The UK does not intend to take such an opt-out.''

There was no explanation.

Mr. Battle: The explanation is self-evident. We are content with the definition of war crimes set out in article 8 of the statute. That is already written into British law.

Mrs. Gillan: Why could that explanation not have been appended to the document? While we discuss the articles and choose, in the Government's wisdom, not to take advantage of the seven-year opt-out, the French Government, in their wisdom, have examined the same articles and ratification process and decided to take advantage of the opt-out. The matter was raised with the Foreign Office in a written question, answered on 10 November 1999. When the Department was questioned about the opt-out prior to the publication of the consultation document, the answer was characterised by a brevity that would be commendable in some instances, but that was quite inexplicable in this one. The then Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister responsible, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), said:

    ``We have no plans to use Article 124 of the International Criminal Court Statute to opt out of the Court's jurisdiction over war crimes. We hope as few countries as possible will take advantage of this provision.''—[Official Report, 10 November 1999; Vol. 340, c. 546.]

That gave a small glimmer of light, as it gave the impression that that Minister sought to influence other countries involved in the ratification process not to take advantage of article 124 of the Rome treaty. That is an exception: in all other instances at all other stages of all debates on the issue, the Government have insisted that we cannot make changes because we must embrace the statute of Rome and nothing but the statute of Rome. However, the Government have now suddenly decided to dismiss article 124 out of hand. That seems a logic gap.

 
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