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Mr. Blunt: I listened to the Minister, who finished by referring to the threshold of seven eighths. I might point out to him that the threshold is one quarter of the world's population, as represented by its states, so the threshold is not quite as high as he implies.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) for explaining the origin of the expression "side wind", which featured in our discussion in Committee. He pointed out, when I muttered at him from a sedentary position, that the court cannot change our constitution, but of course Parliament can. If we chose to do so, there is no reason why we could not change the Bill.
The Foreign Secretary said that we had plenty of time--eight years. I got the impression that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) agreed with him in that respect. We may have eight years in which to come to grips with the matter, but I would not mind making a small wager with both the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for Islington, North that in eight years, when amendments under articles 121 and 122 take effect, we will not be very much further forward in the way in which Parliament examines treaties.
I have listened to the Minister's arguments. I hope that the discussion of the new clause has triggered a wider debate on the issue, and I hope that when we have a Conservative Foreign Secretary and Minister in a few weeks, they will contribute to a discussion about how Parliament will oversee the Executive with respect to treaties. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
'. 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.'.--[Mr. Maude.]
'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.'.
Mr. Maude: New clause 3 would delay implementation of the Act until the Government exercise the seven-year opt-out which is provided for in article 124 of the Rome statute. This important matter was discussed in Committee. Throughout the deliberations on the Bill, both in the House and in the other place, the Government have singularly failed to answer adequately the Opposition's concerns.
We have said many times, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said two years ago in response to the Foreign Secretary's original statement on the matter, that we support the principle of setting up the International Criminal Court. Nothing that we say in any way resiles from that. However, there are genuine concerns about the way in which the Bill will be implemented. Its implications must be properly probed and examined. As we said on Second Reading, we expect some changes to the Bill if it is to have our support.
The seven-year opt-out, which has already been exercised by the French Government, is a means of giving time to see how the court progresses. At the same time, it ensures that members of the armed forces are exempt from the jurisdiction of the Court for the offence of war crimes. Any number of soothing words have issued from the mouths of Ministers to allay the concerns that have been expressed, but none have been convincing. That is why we urge the House to adopt the new clause.
Our principal concern is the danger to members of the armed forces and the implications for the way they would have to operate--the constraints under which they would feel compelled to operate in circumstances which, as we all know, are already extraordinarily difficult. The Government have not given a satisfactory reason why they will not seek such a seven-year opt-out in the same way as France has. They have not said why they prefer other countries not to do so, or why France is fundamentally different from Britain and why, in their view, members of the British armed services should be subject to a lesser degree of protection than members of the French armed services.
New clause 7 relates to the declarations that we hope the Government will make on the statute of Rome and the reason for those declarations. It would mean that the Rome statute would not be ratified unless a report were laid before the House setting out those declarations and the reasons for them, any exceptions that the Government proposed to make and the reasons for them, and the approval of each House of Parliament was secured for such a report.
With the continuing uncertainty in respect of the protection of the armed forces, it is particularly important that Parliament should know what declarations will be made. As we have made clear, France has made such declarations, which seek to protect its armed forces; so has Israel. There is no question of those two Governments being opposed to the court in principle. As one of my hon. Friends said on Second Reading, Israel has been a long-time proponent of the idea of an international criminal court. If such states as Israel and France have such concerns, it is incumbent on the Government to tell us how they will protect our armed forces.
The concerns that have been expressed on a number of occasions have not been met. Those concerns began to emerge in reports to the newspapers some time before the Bill was introduced in this House, but after it had been introduced in the other place and proceedings there were under way. The reports, which looked like unattributable briefing from senior members of the armed forces, were raised in Committee in the other place. The Minister dealing with the Bill in the House of Lords said that there was nothing to worry about, that no representations had been made and that everyone in the armed services,
I return to the points that we made on Second Reading and subsequently in Committee. Our concerns arose during the deliberations of the Select Committee that was established to consider not the Bill before us, but the Armed Forces Bill. The Committee took evidence from the new Chief of the Defence Staff, who was also asked about this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) said:
The men and women in the armed services, who come under the leadership of the Chief of the Defence staff--and the political leadership of Ministers in Her Majesty's Government--are entitled to something better than an equivocal statement. They are entitled to some real reassurance. When we probed the matter on Second Reading, the Foreign Secretary did his best to be reassuring, but I regret to say that he failed to allay our concerns. He could say only that it would not happen in practice. He would not say that members of the armed forces could not in practice find themselves pursued by the International Criminal Court, perhaps on the basis of a political vendetta by other countries that have grudges to settle. He could not say that it was impossible for that to happen.
I asked the Foreign Secretary why he could not accept the sort of proposals that we were putting forward if he was as confident as he was encouraging us to be and knew that our concerns were unrealistic. We seek only to provide the protection in absolutely concrete terms, in statutory form. That could be achieved not only through the opt-out provision, which would enable us to see how the International Criminal Court works in its important stages, but also by the introduction of subsequent amendments that we have tabled in relation to enabling the Secretary of State to exercise discretion. All those proposals would provide reassurance and protection for members of the armed services. I consider it a matter of regret that the Foreign Secretary and the Government have been unwilling to show any flexibility whatever on the matter.