International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Battle: It is not so much a logic gap as a question of negotiation. The statute was the result of negotiation between many countries. We said that we could live with it but that if that article were included, we did not intend to use it ourselves. We do not encourage others to use it but if it is absolutely necessary for it to be written into the text and that can be done without denaturing the statute, we will agree to it because we need a consensus to get the court up and running.

Mrs. Gillan: That seems a remarkable compromise on the Government's part. They wanted the whole statute and nothing but, but they are now willing to sit back and allow one of our close associates within the European Union—France must be so described—to take advantage of a provision that gives protection only to its own citizens and armed forces. That is a key point. The Government have not explained why they are not taking the seven-year opt-out—they just say, ``That is the way it is; this is what we are doing. We are quite satisfied and happy.''

We must consider the way in which other people perceive the Government's position. It is significant that there has been support for the spirit of new clause 1 among the Government Benches in the other place. Lord Shore of Stepney, who is a force to be reckoned with and a man of considerable experience in both Houses, was moved to take part in the debate. Commenting on new clause 1, he said:

    ``The minor suggestion made by the Opposition Front Bench is just an effort to do their best with what apparently is an inviolable convention in a Bill that must in no way be tampered with and amended, even where the most obvious sense and intelligence, based upon our own experience, tells us that some of these clauses are ridiculous. Unless one lives in a world inhabited only by international lawyers,''

—goodness forbid—

    ``one will recognise that without any difficulty. I am sorry to speak with vehemence on this matter.''

That is a powerful comment from someone for whom I know the Minister has a great deal of respect. Lord Shore went on:

    ``I will not have our people dragged before some court because we have used depleted uranium, which many people believe to be poisonous.''.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 March 2001; Vol. 623, c. 360.]

Lord Shore was expressing an impartial view on why we should adopt the seven-year opt-out. The amendment was put to the vote in the other place. The result was 69 contents and 122 not contents—53 against, if my maths serves. Lord Shore went against a three-line Whip and voted with the Conservatives. [Interruption.] I make no apology for praying him in aid because it is important to listen to his views. The Minister must listen more carefully to the views of senior statesmen in his party rather than always give attention to the Opposition. I am interested in the noble Lord's comments on that sensible Opposition suggestion.

There is a great deal of concern in the armed forces. My hon. Friends will want to reflect that in their contributions on the new clauses when they have the good fortune to catch you eye, Mr. Cook. We need only look at some of the commentary surrounding the passage of the Bill to see that the concerns have been aired in public should rightly be discussed in Committee. Both The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian report on their front pages of 7 March the concern felt by top military commanders that the proposed ICC could lead to British troops being prosecuted for war crimes and that it could prevent British peacekeepers from carrying out their tasks effectively. The Guardian reported a senior defence source as saying:

    ``Given wrong rules of engagement [British commanders] could find themselves liable to prosecution as war criminals''.

Far be it from me to speculate on the identity of that unnamed defence source, but I am sure that The Guardian stopped short of printing lies and that the matter was discussed at length.

Mr. Blunt: Perhaps it would assist my hon. Friend to know that other newspapers referred to

    ``sources close to the Chief of the Defence Staff''.

We all know what that means.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall not press the matter any further. There is a serious point to be made. Senior defence personnel are reluctant to put their heads above the parapet. According to The Guardian that senior defence source added that

    ``ministers were `very aware' of such a prospect. He said he was concerned in particular about conflicts and operations, short of a full-scale war, even—paradoxically—where British forces were engaged in support of the UN.''

It would be a turn-up for the books if British troops deployed to support the UN in Sierra Leone or elsewhere faced prosecution as war criminals under the Bill.

I know that the Minister will respond properly. I am sure that he will tell us that there is nothing to worry about, but it is important that we have this debate because many men and women think that there is something to worry about. Their minds must be set at rest, not least the minds of those who put their lives on the line every day for this country and its interests. I cannot stress too much the importance that I attach to the Minister's response.

Another senior defence source said that:

    ``future rules of engagement could, for instance, prevent a British warship from attacking a hostile vessel until it was too late.''

The Minister must address that issue in detail. If military or naval commanders claim that a British warship could be prevented from attacking a hostile vessel, he must tell us why that would not be the case and how our troops are protected in that instance.

Others have raised the case of Senator Pinochet. Michael Caplin, his former lawyer, questions how the Prime Minister could defend himself if he were charged with bombing targets in Kosovo in the knowledge that civilians might be killed. As we are being so magnanimous as to introduce a statute into this country's legislation that will make all our politicians, soldiers, airmen, serving naval officers and ratings subject to this law? An important question must be answered in connection with new clause 1. Our Prime Minister may find himself a subject of the legislation.

12.30 pm

On 7 March, The Guardian reported that

    ``the Foreign Office insisted . . . that the treaty establishing the court merely''

incorporated the

    ``existing tenets of international law. Rules of engagement for British commanders were always consistent with international law such as the Geneva conventions''.

The Department is reported to have said that:

    ``Safeguards have been inserted into the bill to prevent politically-motivated prosecutions . . . In the first instance any investigation will be carried out by authorities in the country whose nationals are accused of wrongdoing.''

That is fair enough, and no more than I would expect a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to say. However, there is no doubt that senior defence sources made it

    ``clear that, in their view, the safeguards are not sufficient'' .

One senior official spoke of the need to ensure

    ``that there is a framework that does not prevent us from doing what we set out to do.''

He went on to say that:

    ``the new rules could make new types of weapons illegal. In other walks of life, new regulations were being introduced with very good reason to make the workplace safer'',

but that the military

    ``should, not be forced to follow . . . slavishly . . . bits of European legislation''

Will the Solicitor-General tell us what new types of weapons may be made illegal under the legislation, and assure us that we are not following slavishly something that will inhibit the way in which this country conducts its business diplomatically and, by virtue of the deployment of its armed services, to the greater good of the interests of British citizens and those we seek to protect in other territories?

That is not the end of the matter. The article continues:

    ``Another military source cited as an example rules which might prevent helicopters from exercising—or even training for rescue missions''

in bad weather, for example. I also seek the Solicitor-General's assurance on that matter. I am loth to deploy more quotations, but it is obvious that the former Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, and his successor, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, are concerned about what they see as an increasingly litigious society. We must be careful that we do not defer too much to political correctness with the result that we hamstring effective and efficient tools of state such as the armed services. In the minutes of evidence and appendices to report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill published on 13 March, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, on being questioned about the ICC Bill, is quoted saying that:

    ``I do know a bit about this Bill and I think we need to be very careful indeed that when the Bill is taken through Parliament, we do not put ourselves in a situation where a junior person carrying out orders which he believes to be entirely proper can subsequently find himself in front of the International Criminal Court. So far I have been told that this is unlikely to happen because the national court would have the opportunity to investigate the case if it were pointed in that direction by the ICC.''

I need assurances from the Solicitor-General. We must be careful as the Bill goes through Parliament.

Mr. Battle: The hon. Lady referred to the crucial phrase:

    ``if it were pointed in that direction by the ICC''

We must all bear in mind that it is United Kingdom courts which will take action first—that will be the usual procedure. Only if they are unable and unwilling to act would such matters go to the International Criminal Court.

Mrs. Gillan: That is what Admiral Sir Michael Boyce said.

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