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Mr. Robin Cook: I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the statement that it would not happen in practice was not mine. I quoted the words to correct him, as he had quoted Geoffrey Robertson QC as saying that there was a theoretical possibility. I reminded him that it was my hon. Friend who went on to say that it would not happen in practice. In my speech, I said that British service personnel would never be prosecuted, as we could pursue any bona fide allegation ourselves. There is no prospect of the sort of mischievous prosecution by a malign state to which he referred, because of the pre-trial procedure. I remind him of the words of the Opposition spokesperson in the House of Lords, Lord Kingsland, who said:
Mr. Maude: Two points arise from those comments. First, it is extremely patronising of the Foreign Secretary to speak in that way about the concerns expressed by the Chief of the Defence Staff--[Interruption.] He says that we are raising unjustified fears, but we did not speak to the Chief of the Defence Staff, who came to his own conclusions about his concerns about the armed forces, for which he has to provide the military leadership. If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Chief of the Defence Staff is so weak and vulnerable that he will be taken in by scurrilous remarks made by the Opposition, he should bear it in mind that he is referring to a serious leader who must make his own judgments. The judgment that the Chief of the Defence Staff has made is that he is not satisfied with what the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues are saying. That is what he said when he was asked about the matter in the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill.
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Chief of the Defence Staff said no such thing; neither could he possibly have said anything other than what I said on Second Reading, because the remarks with which the right hon. Gentleman is regaling the House at length--I think that he is doing so for the second time--were made before Second Reading and before I gave an unequivocal assurance.
My second point in response to the Foreign Secretary is that it is precisely allegations that are not well founded or based on bona fide cases about which we are concerned. Of course, we hope that a proper system of pre-trial review will weed out vexatious claims, but he cannot say with absolute confidence that it is impossible that any member of the British armed forces will ever find himself subject to the international jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court because the case will have been dealt with in international courts.
Mr. Maude: I am not concerned about genuine cases, and I fully accept the Minister of State's remarks in that respect. Of course, the person would be charged by the national courts first in all such cases, but I am anxious about cases in which the national prosecuting authorities--whether military or civil--have already investigated a case and decided that no proper proceedings can be brought, but in which politically motivated proceedings--
Mr. Maude: The Foreign Secretary shakes his head and says that everything is fine, but it is not because that is not the end of the matter. It remains possible. Of course, if the matter has been adjudicated in the national courts, that is the end of it, but if the authorities have considered it and decided not to proceed in the national courts, it is still open to the ICC, as I understand it, to bring proceedings.
If the Foreign Secretary is so confident that it is completely impossible for those circumstances to arise, let him accept our amendments. They provide for a discretion to be exercised so that there is a watertight cut-out which enables Ministers who are confident that a case is completely vexatious to ensure that such a warrant is not executed against a member of the British armed forces. If he is so confident that the current system allows for that, let him provide for it in the Bill. Members of the armed forces are likely to place a great deal more reliance on something that is definitively enacted in statute than on his assurances.
Mr. Browne: I will clarify the intervention. The ICC will still exercise jurisdiction over our nationals or in respect of crimes committed on our territory in relation to articles 6 and 7. There may be allegations that such crimes have been committed by members of our armed forces. Any reservations under article 124 will not refer to them, so we will still have to rely on the bona fides of the prosecution and the court to give our armed forces the protection that they need. It is better that we are in there, ensuring that that happens from the outset, than that we have half a solution.
Mr. Maude: The Government of France sought protection because they are as concerned as we are about the jeopardy in which their armed forces may be placed by the treaty as it stands. Their declaration under the treaty is:
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): If the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to get immunity for British military personnel and, to follow that logic, every other signatory to the treaty of Rome in a similar position, would it not be the case that the ICC could not prosecute military personnel per se? Indeed, none of the crimes listed under article 8 could be brought to prosecution by the ICC.
Mr. Maude: The Foreign Secretary is trying to assure the House that there is no question of British armed service men ever being subject to the ICC in any event. All I am trying to do is to give legal effect through the statute to the Foreign Secretary's solemn declarations
Mr. Maude: In the absence of genuine immunity, the armed forces will find their military efficiency, morale and ability to be operationally effective seriously inhibited. There will always be the anxiety that they will be second-guessed subsequently by those who are not in a military environment and do not understand the pressures under which they have been working. Those are precisely the concerns expressed by a number of senior military officers. In the heat of battle with battlefield decisions to be made, officers try to the best of their ability to interpret and give effect to the rules of engagement under which they are operating. Just the thought of any risk of subsequent second-guessing may inhibit, and affect adversely, their military effectiveness. The result of damaging military effectiveness is lives put in danger. We think that that matters.