Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 25, line 29, leave out from ("authority") to ("period") in line 31 and insert ("have removed the child from the dwelling-house from which the relevant person is excluded to other accommodation for a continuous").

25 May 1995 : Column 1075

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is an amendment that I spoke to with Amendment No. 13. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 26, line 21, after ("child") insert ("usually").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to clarify the confusion which might arise where an exclusion order is sought on the basis that a child is presently being accommodated elsewhere under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989. Clearly, if the child is being presently accommodated elsewhere, then he or she is not living in the dwelling house referred to in the provisions of new Section 44A of the Children Act 1989. Nevertheless, the conditions necessary to obtain an exclusion order against the relevant person rely on the relevant person living at the same house as the child. The Bill presumably envisages a situation where the child has been accommodated for a period of time, having left the dwelling house where the relevant person is residing, or visits. On the present drafting it may be argued that the relevant person may not be excluded from the dwelling house as the child is not there at the time of the application. It is for that reason, and that reason only, that I seek to introduce the word "usually" into subsection (2) of the proposed new section in the Children Act. I would hope that the word "usually" adds clarity and would not itself beg too many questions, if and when the matter came to be debated in a court. I beg to move.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, this amendment is intended to enable a person to be excluded from a dwelling house in which a child usually lives as opposed to the current wording which refers to where the child lives. In my view the word "lives" is a word that a court would apply as a matter of practical common sense. If the child was there only on a temporary basis it would still be proper to describe the place as where the child lives. On the other hand I do not think one would wish to have some kind of arrangement under which a child who spent more than half the year in one house and the rest of the time in another house was covered by this provision. It is a practical matter and my view is that the words in the Bill are sufficiently precise, and yet sufficiently general in their scope, to allow the court to apply the provision in a practical way. I would not favour, as at present advised, adding the word "usual" to the Bill. Living in a house implies a degree of use of a house, or of "usualness", if that is a correct expression. It implies that to a degree the house is the place where the child usually lives. I suggest that the present wording is reasonably plain and would not be particularly advantaged by adding the word "usual".

Lord Meston: My Lords, this was intended to be a drafting improvement. It has been suggested, however, that perhaps it is not. I hope I do not have to declare an interest if I say that I look forward to arguing the point in court one day. But, subject to that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

25 May 1995 : Column 1076

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 27, line 19, leave out from ("applicant") to ("period") in line 21 and insert ("has removed the child from the dwelling-house from which the relevant person is excluded to other accommodation for a continuous").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to this already with Amendment No. 13. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

1.27 p.m.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. May I open as in the great tradition of this House by declaring an interest? I am a fully paid up member of the British Red Cross Society and have been for many years. It has over those years cost me a great deal of money. The purpose of this Bill is to make the necessary changes in United Kingdom law to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the 1977 protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. These 1977 protocols, like the 1949 Geneva Conventions, concern the protection of war victims.

The Minister of State for foreign and commonwealth affairs announced in another place in October 1993 that Her Majesty's Government would ratify the two 1977 treaties,

    "as soon as the necessary legislation can be enacted in domestic law".

Such domestic legislation is required before ratification can take place so that Britain is not in breach of its international obligations once the treaty is ratified. So the Bill may be considered non-contentious and mainly technical in nature, but it is nevertheless extremely important. I also hope it will find support from all sides of the House.

The Bill amends the existing Geneva Conventions Act 1957, enacted nearly 38 years ago to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Broadly, the Bill extends or amends existing sections of the 1957 Act to give effect to certain articles of the First Additional Protocol 1977. As an illustration, by virtue of the 1957 Act, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions are already criminal offences in United Kingdom law. This Bill extends the relevant section of the 1957 Act to include grave breaches of Additional Protocol I so that they too become criminal offences in our law.

The Bill also seeks to update or improve a few provisions of the 1957 Act, mainly with a view to enhancing the legal protection of the Red Cross and other protective emblems and devices and adds the two 1977 protocols as schedules to the 1957 statute.

I doubt that your Lordships need a great deal of introduction to the Geneva Conventions, whose protective, humanitarian purposes have been well known through films, television and history books and, of course, taught to our children over many years. Noble

25 May 1995 : Column 1077

Lords will know that for centuries countries have agreed that despite actions to the contrary there are constraints on the waging of war. Indeed, the idea of restraint in warfare has been called one of civilisation's greatest achievements. There now exists a large body of international law—some written, some unwritten—regulating the means and methods of warfare, as well as protecting the victims of armed conflict. These rules are variously called "the law of war" or "the law of armed conflict" or "international humanitarian law".

The Geneva Conventions are a very important part of this branch of the law of nations and since 1863 the Red Cross movement has been closely associated with its development, dissemination and respect. Indeed, it was at the statutory meetings of the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent movement in October 1993 that the Minister for Overseas Development, following the parliamentary announcement, made a commitment to the movement to ratify the 1977 additional protocols.

Like other parts of international law and, indeed, like national laws, the rules governing warfare are not always obeyed. But that does not mean that these laws should be discarded. Moreover, their application in particular conflicts has often been accompanied by controversy, as indeed was the case in the conflicts in the Gulf and the Falklands. But even in these conflicts, lives have been saved and suffering prevented by the application of international humanitarian law. There are many people—Britons and others—who have spent years in prisoner of war camps or who were wounded on the battlefield, whose lives have been saved by these rules; in particular, by the Geneva Conventions.

In addition, increasing numbers of civilians are caught up in armed conflicts throughout the world and their position would be made even more vulnerable without the protection of these laws. The original Geneva Convention was agreed in 1864. It sought to improve the plight of wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Since then, the Geneva Convention has been extended to other categories of war victims—the shipwrecked, prisoners of war and, of course, civilians. It has also been periodically updated and expanded in the light of the experience of new conflicts and of new developments in warfare.

The main principles laid down in the 1864 Convention have been maintained in all subsequent Geneva Conventions. They are: first, relief to the wounded without any distinction as to nationality; secondly, the inviolability of medical personnel and medical establishments and units; and thirdly, the distinctive sign of the Red Cross on a white background, known universally as the Red Cross emblem, to be used as a symbol of protection and neutrality.

Britain has in the past been a party to all the Geneva Conventions. Over the years, Parliament has had to enact legislation before ratification of the relevant Geneva Convention was possible. This happened in 1911, when the Geneva Convention Act of that year was passed to enable Great Britain to ratify the 1906 Geneva Convention. The same thing happened in 1937 with respect to the 1929 Geneva Convention. As already mentioned, the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 was

25 May 1995 : Column 1078

required to enable the UK to ratify the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Thus, the Bill is only the latest in the line of legislation necessary to enable the United Kingdom to become a party to the latest update of the Geneva Conventions, namely, the additional protocols of 1977.

I shall explain briefly the two additional protocols whose texts are set out in the schedule to the Bill. These treaties were adopted after much consideration over four years, taking into account various developments since 1949. These developments included the greater number of internal armed conflicts and the greater number of mixed armed conflicts—that is, part international and part internal; the increasing use of guerrilla warfare; the wars and effects of decolonisation; the growth in the field of human rights and changes in military technology. The two protocols reflect these experiences. They supplement and update the 1949 Geneva Conventions, bringing them into line with modern methods of warfare and provide better protection for the victims of armed conflicts. The vast majority of their rules remain relevant and necessary today.

Additional Protocol I, relating to international armed conflicts, strengthens the protection for the civilian population, in particular, against the effects of hostilities such as aerial bombing. It clarifies the classic distinction between civilians and combatants, and civilian objects and military objects, through prohibitions and definitions. The protocol provides protection for special categories of persons with special needs, such as refugees and stateless persons; it extends the protection of medical services, both military and civilian; it improves the provisions on relief actions in favour of starving civilians and has new provisions relating to the search for missing persons.

The protocol also introduces a new mechanism to enforce the law, through an international fact-finding commission. I hope that the United Kingdom will make a declaration accepting the competence of this commission when it deposits its instrument of ratification of the protocol.

Protocol II, which is much shorter than Protocol I, develops protection for victims in certain non-international armed conflicts. It establishes fundamental guarantees for all persons who do not take a direct part in hostilities, and bans attacks on the civilian population and forbids the forced displacement of civilians. The Second Protocol also provides an improved basis for humanitarian actions by such bodies as Red Cross organisations and local medical and religious personnel.

The United Kingdom played a leading role at the diplomatic conference which met from 1974 to 1977 and which adopted the two protocols. Your Lordships will remember that we had a Labour Government during most of that time, which is one reason why I hope that there will be cross-party support of the Bill. The United Kingdom representative signed both treaties on 12th December 1977, subject to certain understandings. Since then, 137 states have become a party to Additional Protocol I, and 127 countries have become a party to Protocol II. Parties include most of our NATO partners, Russia and China. France is a party to Protocol II. Ratification could be influential in encouraging the few remaining countries which are not yet parties to the protocols to become so.

25 May 1995 : Column 1079

The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent will meet in Geneva in early December this year. They will want this Bill to become an Act. The International Conference, one of the most important humanitarian forums in the world, will bring together representatives of 185 states which are party to the Geneva Conventions, as well as all the recognised Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations worldwide. Acceptance of the 1977 protocols will be among the matters discussed. It would enhance the British influence at the conference were legislation for ratification to be in place.

As has already been noted, the Red Cross movement promoted the original Geneva Convention of 1864. It has continued to have a prominent role in helping to develop and promote subsequent Geneva Conventions, including the 1977 additional protocols. The British Red Cross has long been an advocate of this country's ratification of the 1977 treaties. It would be particularly gratifying to the society if this necessary legislation could be enacted during 1995, the year of its 125th anniversary.

We do not estimate that there would even be a significant increase in cost by enacting this Bill. On the contrary, costs could be saved if, as a result of UK ratification, more countries accept the protocols, since the cost to our country and others of the disruption or destruction of thousands of innocent lives, the forced homelessness of entire communities and populations, and the victimisation of children, who grow up knowing only hatred, death and fear, is incalculable.

The 1977 additional protocols are the most recent efforts at a multi-lateral level to moderate the horrors of war. They follow a long line in Geneva Conventions to which this country has always adhered. The protocols represent a balance between military requirement and humanitarian dictates, which, after long study, the Government have already decided they can accept. Many of the rules contained in the protocols are part of customary law, or have been influenced by human rights treaties, and are accepted already by our allies. United Kingdom ratification in the near future would limit potential problems for our Armed Forces at an operational level, as in the Gulf War, where not all the coalition members had signed Protocol 1. The fact that the protocol was not universally ratified also made it more difficult for this country to condemn Iraq's destruction of the oil-fields in Kuwait as a violation of international humanitarian law.

The values of humane treatment and restraint, of making a distinction between civilians and military, so that the former are not attacked, as contained in both protocols, merits reaffirmation. They are relevant to existing armed conflicts of all kinds throughout the world. It has been estimated that 240 armed conflicts have occurred since the end of the Second World War. Sadly, it appears inevitable that such conflicts will continue. Today, in conflicts throughout the world, civilians are most affected by war, and many of them are children. It is reported that 90 per cent. of those who died in the conflicts in the Lebanon were civilians; and 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. of those were children.

25 May 1995 : Column 1080

The toll on civilian lives by armed conflicts in the past 50 years is now calculated to run into millions. The world community is desperately in need of international agreements such as the two 1977 additional protocols, which protect innocent human beings caught up in the tragedy of war and conflict. The United Kingdom, I say to the Minister, can give a lead, and avoid embarrassment internationally by acting swiftly to ratify these humanitarian law treaties.

It could not be more appropriate than in the 125th year of the British Red Cross that the country should offer its own olive branch and ratify these two protocols. It would allow the British delegation to attend the convention in Geneva on 4th December and confirm that Britain has signed and turned them into law. I doubt whether there is an institution in the world that is more universally admired and respected than the Red Cross and the Red Crescent movement. It is with considerable pride that I represent those organisations in your Lordships' House today. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare.)

1.45 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I believe that no one in this House dissents from the view that the 1977 protocols, which supplement and update the 1949 Geneva Conventions, are long overdue for full ratification. The proximity of the next International Red Cross conference, which is due before the end of the year, is a timely reminder to ensure that this country formally ratifies the protocols before then.

Perhaps noble Lords will agree that our experiences in the Falklands and Gulf conflicts are also strong reasons for ensuring that we are a fully ratified signatory to these important protocols. They are important because, as the noble Lord, Lord Archer, said, they bring the 1949 Conventions into line with more modern methods of warfare, and not least the effects of aerial bombing and missile attack. War and conflict are horrible experiences for those who are caught up in them, whether operations are of a high intensity or the more frequently experienced mortar and small arms exchanges that have filled our newspapers and television screens over recent months.

While ratification may not give complete comfort that all will be well for servicemen and women and the civilian population, it is still an important element of control in the conditions of modern conflict. Noble Lords will recall the utterly callous and deplorable treatment of some of our air crew captured by the Iraqis in the Gulf conflict. Their forced appearance on television and their maltreatment as injured prisoners of war were humiliating and degrading in the extreme, even though Iraq had already ratified the two protocols. I contrast that treatment with our own preparations to fulfil the Geneva Conventions and our humane treatment of Iraqi prisoners of war. Those arrangements involved our Armed Forces in considerable extra effort to meet the Conventions. Although not explicitly stated in the protocols, I would hope that the shocking treatments meted out to our air crew by the Iraqis would be specifically forbidden as inhumane and

25 May 1995 : Column 1081

degrading. Surely there can be no place for exploitation of prisoners of war by the use of television in that cynical way. Our position to argue so is morally weakened unless we, too, have formally enacted the protocols through this Bill.

1.48 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, for introducing this valuable, timely, and indeed long overdue Bill. Like the noble Lord, I declare a personal interest as a member of the international advisory committee of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. I have served in that capacity for about four years; and in that capacity I have been able to see the extent to which the ICRC, perhaps more than any other body in the world, has the sad opportunity to witness—but also to try to alleviate—the suffering of the victims of armed conflict, whether international or domestic in character.

The ICRC shares with the depository power, namely, the Government of Switzerland, and indeed with all signatories to the Geneva Conventions, a desire both to disseminate more widely the principles of international humanitarian law and to ensure their observance. The ICRC has been monitoring particularly closely the list of those signatories to the Geneva Conventions who have not yet ratified one or other of the additional protocols under discussion today. I have therefore been very gratified by the several assurances given—also noted with gratitude by the ICRC—that Her Majesty's Government are ready and willing to ratify the additional protocols and that it only remains, in the words of a reply I was given as recently as 18th May by the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker,

    "to find a way of ensuring that these protocols can be ratified".

The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Archer, seems to provide just such a way of fulfilling Her Majesty's Government's public commitment. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that that is done as soon as possible and certainly in good time before the Red Cross international conference to be held in December this year.

I should perhaps add that no one and certainly not the International Committee of the Red Cross has any doubts about the extent to which the British Armed Forces both understand and comply with the principles of international humanitarian law. On the contrary, we score very high marks. But ratification by Her Majesty's Government is not only important in itself. It will also be an encouragement and an incentive to those few governments who still retain some reservations about one or both of the protocols.

The noble Lord, Lord Archer, eloquently described the constraints which have applied to Her Majesty's Government from our failure so far to ratify the additional protocols. I urge the early passage of the Bill.

1.52 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I apologise for speaking in the gap, having missed the deadline last night. I too thank my noble friend Lord Archer for bringing to

25 May 1995 : Column 1082

your Lordships' House the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill in this very important 125th birthday year of the Red Cross.

As an honorary vice-president and an active member of the Red Cross for well over 30 years, having started under the inspirational guidance and wise leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, I naturally feel very strongly on this matter.

Since 1949, there have been four Geneva Conventions for the protection of war victims, which have been adopted by virtually every country in the world. The aim of the original Convention of 1864 was to improve the condition of the wounded of armies in the field. In 1907 a Convention agreed at The Hague adapted previous provisions to cover the wounded of maritime warfare. A further Convention, adopted in 1929, detailed the acceptable treatment of prisoners of war; and a Convention in 1949 provided for the protection of civilians in time of war.

Two new treaties, called protocols, were drawn up in 1977. They add to and update the 1949 Geneva Conventions and aim to give greater protection to civilians. It is the work of the International Committee to develop the Geneva Conventions and the entire movement has a key role in their promotion throughout the world. It is in relation to those 1977 protocols that we are debating this Bill today in your Lordships' House.

As we heard, in 1993 at the Red Cross conference in Birmingham, it was agreed that we would ratify those protocols. Sadly, they still remain unratified. I add my voice today to urge my noble friend the Minister to make sure that our Government, who have always been so supportive of the British Red Cross Society, ratify those protocols as soon as possible.

1.55 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the support of the Labour Party for the successive Geneva Conventions has never been in any doubt. We have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting the purposes of this Bill. I shall speak very briefly because, unlike the previous distinguished speakers, I have no individual knowledge or personal experience to communicate to your Lordships. In my view, the only question is how to put this Bill on the statute book as soon as possible. The question preceding that—it is a question to the Government—is: why is this a Private Member's Bill and not a government Bill?

This is the third occasion within the past month that a Bill has come before your Lordships' House as a Private Member's Bill. It ought to have come from the Government and in particular from the Home Office. The Bills brought forward by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, were both fully supported by the Government and, I believe, drafted by officials. They ought to have come as government Bills and been treated with the respect and full professionalism that is due to a government Bill.

The same is true of the present Bill. I have not been through it in great detail but I see that the Long Title of the Bill is incorrect, in that it refers to the Geneva Conventions Act 1975 instead of the Geneva Conventions

25 May 1995 : Column 1083

Act 1957. That fills me with a certain amount of dread and I wonder what is in the text of the Bill and whether that kind of inaccuracy is present anywhere else. No doubt such matters can be tidied up, but what is necessary above all is that we have a Bill which can go through this House, can be relied upon to be properly drafted and properly effective and is restricted to only those matters which are essential for the ratification of the two additional protocols of 1977, and nothing else. If the Minister, in replying, can say that she is prepared to give her assistance to tidying up the Bill, which I believe will be necessary, it would be enormously helpful not only in speeding the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House but also in ensuring that time can be found for it, at least the time necessary for it to be approved by the other place.

I understand that my honourable friend Mark Fisher will take charge of the Bill if and when it goes to the other place. I am sure that he will say, as I do, that it is essential that the Bill that he receives from your Lordships is the best Bill possible. I hope that both the Ministers and the promoters of the Bill will feel it possible to talk seriously and make sure that we have a Bill that can be enacted through both Houses of Parliament in good time for the international conference in December this year.

1.58 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, a fortnight ago the 50th anniversary of victory in Europe was commemorated throughout the country. Indeed, it was commemorated throughout the world. It was an opportunity to remember and give thanks for the spirit and sacrifice of those who fought for the democratic ideals which we all hold dear and which were so determinedly threatened during those dark days of the last war.

During that long conflict, those in the Armed Forces and their loved ones could draw some comfort from the protection afforded by the Geneva Conventions. However, the war showed that there was a need to improve and indeed extend the scope of those Conventions, which have now been replaced by the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.

The process of improvement has been taken further with the additional protocols of 1977. Through the Conventions, a humanitarian duty towards friend and foe alike is imposed upon combatant states. The Geneva conventions are, of course, inextricably linked in history and in practice with the Red Cross whose relief work in time of war and peace cannot be commended too highly. In this, the 125th anniversary year of the British Red Cross, it is fitting that we should be discussing ratification of the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions which extend the protection already given to combatants under the Geneva Conventions and introduce new protections for the civilian population.

Few could argue with the general principles underlying the protocols and, indeed, the Government are committed to their ratification. As my noble friend indicated in his outstanding and telling Second Reading speech in bringing forward his Bill, domestic legislation is required before ratification can take place. Such legislation is

25 May 1995 : Column 1084

needed in order to ensure that what are defined as "grave breaches" of the First Protocol can be dealt with under our criminal law. My noble friend's Bill, however, goes somewhat further than is strictly required in a number of areas and in so doing raises some sensitive issues. It also has some technical deficiencies, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which would require amendment. Indeed, the Bill requires substantial amendment.

Clause 2, for example, provides that certain contraventions of the First Protocol, such as threatening an adversary that there shall be no survivors, shall be treated as grave breaches, although the protocol itself does not treat them as such. In these circumstances it is, in the Government's view, inappropriate and inconsistent with the approach we have taken to the Geneva Conventions more generally to seek to extend the criminal law to cover those acts which are, in any event, already likely to be covered by the general criminal law or the Armed Forces' disciplinary codes.

Clause 3 also goes further than is required for ratification by seeking to make the Defence Council the sole protecting authority for emblems instead of the function being divided between the Defence Council and the Board of Trade, as is currently the case. The current arrangements reflect the fact that the misuse of the relevant emblems often arises in a trading context and raises issues which are outside the responsibility of the Defence Council.

Those are only two examples of areas in which my noble friend's Bill goes beyond what is strictly required by the protocols and raises wider issues. These are, of course, issues which need to be debated but, with all deference to my noble friend, I have to say that I believe that they require more time for debate than is likely to be available for his Bill.

Some helpful discussions have already taken place with the Red Cross which has indicated that many of the policy issues are likely to be capable of satisfactory resolution. Nevertheless, a considerable number of amendments to the Bill would be required which would also need to be discussed with my noble friend and the Red Cross. As your Lordships will appreciate, they could consume valuable parliamentary time when we already have an extremely busy programme. Noble Lords may agree therefore that, given the importance of this subject, it may be better to defer consideration of those proposals until more time can be devoted to them.

Perhaps I can say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that, first, I noted his remonstration as to whether the Government should have brought forward this Bill at this time. But the determination to ratify the protocol is actively being pursued by the Government and it is therefore a matter of timing. There have been extremely constructive talks between officials in my department and Red Cross officials about some areas of the Bill which may require resolution. I hope that those discussions will continue. However, I must flag up to the House that parliamentary time is an issue at this end of the parliamentary Session.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page