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9.52 am

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) on her good fortune in being selected to initiate today's debate on the International Criminal Court. It is a timely debate and I hope that the Minister and the Government were listening carefully. It is more than 51 years since the idea was first discussed in the United Nations Assembly, which passed resolution 260 in December 1948, but we are not very much nearer the establishment of such a court. In the intervening time, there have been various committees and courts of the International Legal Commission, all of which have produced reports and ideas of fine words and sentiments, but until November 1998, no concrete proposals were forthcoming.

From time to time, there have been ad hoc international criminal tribunals. The hon. Lady mentioned the most recent ones, which were set up in The Hague to deal with the problems in the former Yugoslavia and the horrific activities in Rwanda. Those ad hoc bodies are fine as far as they go, but one has only to consider the Rwanda case to see their limitations. The Rwanda tribunal can deal only with offences committed in 1994. Other offences were committed in Rwanda outside that 12-month period, and the court can do nothing about them.

I do not wish to belittle the work of the ad hoc tribunals as they have done a great deal and there is still much to do. I should also praise the work of the Bar of England and Wales, which has sent British barristers to work as prosecutors and to train lawyers in Africa and has trained those appearing in The Hague in the work that is so necessary to achieve justice. However, I urge the Government to get their skates on and do something more than simply signing the statute of Rome, as they did last year.

Throughout history, most perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity have gone unpunished. Despite the military tribunals following the second world war and the two recent ad hoc international criminal tribunals, the same holds true for this century. Most perpetrators of atrocities on a national or international scale clearly believed that their crimes would go unpunished, and they have largely been correct. Very few criminals of that calibre have ever been brought to justice. One has only to think of Cambodia, where Pol Pot died in his bed and not in prison. There are criticisms that the Nuremberg trials that took place after the second world war were selective justice and there will no doubt be similar criticisms of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. To return to my example of Cambodia, unless we have a permanent International Criminal Court, the criticism of selective justice will continue to be made.

I know that criticisms have been made of the stand taken by the United States in relation to signing the statute and its lack of support for the establishment of an

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International Criminal Court. However, being rude about the United States will not achieve much. Instead of allowing their supporters and others to be rude about the United States, the Government should take the initiative.

I hope that I am establishing for the record what the Conservative party believes by quoting my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) when she questioned the Foreign Secretary when he made a statement on the International Criminal Court. She said:

She was right then and the Government would be right now if they did a little more to push for the ratification of the statute.

The Government should not allow themselves to be drawn into a sense of complacency and self-satisfaction. We are one of the first nations to have signed the statute, but only four countries have ratified it. The hon. Lady mentioned Italy. The other three are no doubt worthy nations, but they are not in the first rank of international power. I urge the Government to get on and lead by example. Unless we do, all sorts of other less powerful and influential states that look to the permanent five will also lag behind.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a two-track strategy whereby we speed up ratification but also put polite pressure on larger powers to ratify would be appropriate?

Mr. Garnier: I am sure that it would. I am not suggesting that we should not put diplomatic or other pressure on China, for example, which sent its president here last week. I sincerely hope that our Prime Minister, when he was not entertaining the President of China, found an opportunity to remind him of the need for it to become one of the signatories to--not to mention ratifiers of--the statute of Rome. I trust that we have a sufficiently good relationship with the United States under this and any future presidency for the Government and their successors to be able to put pressure on the US to sign and ratify the statute; but unless we get on and do it ourselves, our arguments will have less force.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I wholeheartedly agree with the points that my hon. and learned Friend is making. Does he agree that it is a great shame that, in the negotiations at Rome, where our team and others bent over backwards to try to assuage the fears of the USA--and the document that was produced consequently contained substantial legal flaws--the USA ultimately felt that it could not join the countries that signed up? Should not the Government make every effort on every occasion to meet US officials and try to persuade them that their fears can be accommodated so that they can be brought within the ambit of the statute? Without the USA, Israel, China and India, the job will not be done.

Mr. Garnier: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, as I did when she asked the Foreign Secretary a question in response to his statement in July 1998. I urge the Government to listen carefully to her, as I have done.

There is certainly a general feeling of warmth towards the establishment of an International Criminal Court, but the problem is how to translate that warmth into activity.

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Only seven of the 127 countries represented in Rome voted against the establishment of the ICC. China and the United States were two among them. The US based its decision on its fears that US service personnel stationed abroad might be subject to malicious prosecution. Our service personnel are often stationed abroad--indeed, about half our armed forces are overseas at any one time--as are those of other NATO countries, but the United States is the only NATO state that failed to sign the statute. Strong diplomatic pressure is required.

My main concern about the statute and the thinking behind it is that, while 60 countries will have to ratify before the court can be established, only four have so far done so, and our Government say that they cannot tell us when the necessary legislation will be introduced because it is terribly complicated. Legislation is frequently complicated but Governments have not always used that as an excuse for not introducing it. Reform of the House of Lords is complicated but that is being pushed through, as other Labour Government legislation has been that could easily be described as complicated. If the Government had the will, the complications could be dealt with.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): May I draw the hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to column 805 in the written answers in yesterday's Hansard, where the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) says that the problem is parliamentary time? Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman could have a word with his colleagues in the other place so that we get more parliamentary time and can ratify as soon as possible.

Mr. Garnier: If the hon. Gentleman can save the House parliamentary time by not supporting a Bill to ban fox hunting, we will no doubt have plenty of time to deal with more serious matters.

Mrs. Gillan: Has my hon. and learned Friend had a chance to look at some of the papers before the preparatory committee? I came across the disturbing information that for the statute to come into force the number of ratifications required, previously five to 65, had moved to 25 to 90. Has he any comment on that moving of the goalposts and the barriers that are being put in the way of the court at every stage?

Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention. It underlines the point that, if our Government lead by example, others may follow.

It is not only Conservative Members who are urging the Government to press ahead with the legislation. The Foreign Affairs Committee did so in its first report. The then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), said:

I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) that another answer has been published today; one appeared on 20 October from the

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new Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), saying that legislation would be introduced as soon as time allows. It is for the Government to control their own programme. They know how to make the time. The Queen's Speech is on 17 November, and I sincerely hope that we shall find reference in it to the relevant legislation.

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