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10.34 am

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): At the instigation of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), we have had an extremely interesting debate on the International Criminal Court, and I am sure that the House, and a wider audience outside, will be grateful to her. Last year, the Foreign Secretary announced with great fanfare that the ICC was going to come into effect soon, but nothing has happened since.

I should also like to welcome the Minister on his first outing in his new post. I wish him great happiness and hope that he will stay a little longer than his predecessors. He is fortunate in that there is clearly a consensus in the Chamber today. There have been interesting and helpful contributions from hon. Members of all parties. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) shared his experiences with us today, and I am grateful for the views expressed by the hon. Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) and for Putney (Mr. Colman), as well as by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) also made a very sound contribution, but I am not sure that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) will be welcomed with open arms in America after her remarks.

I shall be brief, as I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say on this subject. My views about the International Criminal Court can easily be summarised. Only four countries have ratified the court so far, and it has been noted that major countries such as India, Israel, China and the United States have not signed up to it. I believe that compromises in the negotiations have left

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the treaty with fundamental flaws, and the United Kingdom has made no progress towards ratification. In addition, the efficacy and cost of the final outcome remain to be explored in detail.

The Foreign Secretary promised us ratification, and the will of the House is to seek ratification. The Foreign Secretary said that that would be difficult and complex, and that he did not want to rush it through in a single day as was done with the land mines legislation. We are willing to give the process time, but the Minister must realise that the Government are in charge of business--only they can make the time for this important move. The House expects the Minister to give us good news today; indeed, if he fails to do so, he will show that our greatest fears have been realised and that the Government are merely pandering to soundbite politics by making something look good, but failing to come through on it.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough reminded us that the process has been going on for decades. An international tribunal with universal jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity has been at the top of the agenda since resolution 260 was passed in 1948. Yet there is still no permanent International Criminal Court. The ad hoc tribunals set up to deal with Rwanda and Yugoslavia were set up at the express instruction of the United Nations Security Council and were never intended to be permanent. Indeed, the efficacy of those institutions has been called into question many times.

The establishment of an international court probably remains many years away. The Foreign Secretary's initial enthusiasm was misleading because it is hard to envisage the success of an institution that seven nations opposed and on which 21 nations abstained. The countries that I have mentioned are a massive concentration of people and world power. What have the Government done since Rome to persuade those countries towards the perspective of the countries that ratified the treaty? If the Minister cannot answer now, I hope that he will write to me.

Closer examination of the treaty reveals some serious difficulties. Speakers have alluded to its necessary adoption by 60 states if it is to come into force. I have been told that, on the preparatory commission--PrepCom--that target has moved. Is that so, and what does the Minister propose to do about it? There are plenty of anomalies in the treaty: acts of terrorism will fall outside the court's jurisdiction, as will the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The use of poisoned weapons will constitute a war crime, so that the court would have jurisdiction if someone killed a single civilian with a poisoned arrow or dumdum bullet, but would not be able to act if the person concerned had killed hundreds of thousands of people with a biological or nuclear weapon. It would be helpful if the Minister would comment on those anomalies.

Costs and efficacy are important matters. The hon. Member for Tatton used his personal experience of the Yugoslavian tribunal to refer to a detainee who is awaiting sentence. However, the facts and figures relating to that tribunal are frightening. What is the Minister doing about the problems highlighted by that tribunal, and what lessons have been learned from it that may be carried over to the International Criminal Court?

The tribunal was established in May 1993. It has 778 members of staff from 63 countries. To date, it has cost more than $279 million. Yet the net result is that just

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one person--currently serving a sentence in Norway--has been convicted. Some 91 people have been publicly indicted: six have died; 18 have had the charges dropped; 33 remain at large; 31 are in custody; and two have been released pending appeals. We must query the spending of $279 million on putting one person in custody. What lessons is the Minister learning from the tribunals? What contribution is the UK making towards ensuring that PrepCom meetings and planning meetings on the court will rid us of the worst excesses of tribunals of this type? We must ensure that we achieve an effective vehicle for international justice.

I have mentioned our broad support for the court, a support the Conservative party has offered for decades. We have always supported the principle, and shall continue to do so by helping the Minister in any way that we can. I therefore hope that he will tell us that the Queen's Speech will contain a relevant measure.

Foreign policy today is not conducted as the Conservative party would like. It seems to be based on saying one thing and doing another. It is to be commended that Amnesty International is working within the Foreign Office, but less so that it is left to the President of China rather than our Prime Minister to raise human rights during the President's recent visit. The Foreign Secretary will not even sign a condemnation of China's human rights records, as the Conservatives did successively. I hold out little hope for Labour's ethical and moral foreign policy, which seems to have two faces.

I also have little hope that the Minister will tell me that the ratification of the International Criminal Court will be contained in the Queen's Speech. If he cannot tell us that--I can see from the expression on his face that he cannot--he has already failed. Perhaps instead I could ask for this commitment to the House and to those who wish to see the court's creation: will the Foreign Office give us regular progress reports and details of discussions that Ministers are holding with their opposite numbers in China, the USA, Israel, India and other countries that have not supported the treaty? I want to see letters and correspondence that prove that the Government are putting their money where their mouth is by pursuing a moral and ethical foreign policy.

At present, the Foreign Office tries to sound good and look good, but does nothing. No progress has been made since the Foreign Secretary announced to the House with a great fanfare the signing of the treaty in Rome. The House demands action.

10.47 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) for raising this important matter. Until the final remarks of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), an excellent consensus had been found, and I have rarely attended a foreign policy debate in which there have been so many expressions of support for the principle of what the Government propose. I am grateful for that support to the hon. Members for Tatton (Mr. Bell) and for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), for Putney (Mr. Colman) and for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes). I thank, too, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough

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(Mr. Garnier) for his kind comments, but must add that, although I am the Minister for Europe, Leicester remains in Europe--

Mr. Garnier: But not run by Europe.

Mr. Vaz: Nor, fortunately, is it run by the Conservative party. I shall continue to make my constituency duties a priority.

I was delighted that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) called me one of her boys, and shall refer to her from now on as "Mummy".

The Government are absolutely committed to the establishment of an International Criminal Court. Recent events in Kosovo and East Timor have only served to strengthen our resolve. The court will be able to tackle the culture of impunity, and to put an end to the dreadful paradox of the 20th century that those guilty of killing one man, woman or child are more likely to be brought to justice than those guilty of killing thousands. It will put dictators and potential dictators on notice that crimes against humanity will not be tolerated. We are determined that the International Criminal Court should be an effective means of securing justice for victims of heinous crimes. We hope that the knowledge that those who have committed atrocities will be brought to justice will help their victims and their victims' families to put the past behind them and participate in a process of reconciliation and reconstruction.

As many hon. Members have noted in the debate, the Rome statute was a huge achievement. The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has called it a giant step forward in the march towards universal human rights and the rule of law. I am glad to report that the United Kingdom has played an impressive part in that achievement. We were, and remain, part of the like-minded group of states that formed in Rome to throw their collective weight behind the court.

We are proud of our achievements during the Rome negotiations. The United Kingdom took the lead in introducing important elements such as ensuring that the court covered internal conflicts, the question of child soldiers, reparations for victims, the appropriate qualifications for judges and the important question of court procedures. That work continues at the preparatory commission meetings at which our delegates continue to contribute in preparing rules of procedure and evidence of crimes, and the work is proceeding well. The next meeting of the preparatory commission will be held in New York on 29 November.

As many hon. Members have said, 89 countries have signed the Rome statute and four have ratified it. That level of support proves how seriously the international community views these crimes and demonstrates global revulsion at genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the work is not over yet. We want many more countries to sign the statute and we have encouraged all Commonwealth members to sign and ratify it. We raise the issue of the court in bilateral contacts with countries around the world as well as in multilateral forums and we have supported activities to promote awareness of the court and ratification.

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