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Mr. Maude: I do not advocate such a declaration. I shall come to the specific declaration that I advocate when I deal with the main amendments that we want to make to the Bill.
I think I can take it from what the Foreign Secretary says that he proposes that the Government will not enter any declarations.
Mr. Cook: We have none in mind.
Mr. Maude: We can take that as a definitive statement that the Government expect the Rome statute to remain without reservations, which is effectively what declarations are. It is helpful to have that confirmed. I think that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) wanted to intervene.
Mr. Mackinlay: We want to know what the right hon. Gentleman's concerns are.
Mr. Maude: The hon. Gentleman has contained his curiosity very well.
Mr. Cook: If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will clarify the number of declarations. As I said,
Mr. Maude: To satisfy the curiosity of the hon. Member for Thurrock, I shall move on to our second concern, which is more specific but very deep, and I suspect that it lies behind the concerns of the United States Administration. I refer to the position of the armed forces.
We believe that the Bill does not give our armed forces the protection that they need. War by its very nature is chaotic. There are many examples of events in war in which dutiful, decent officers and men obeyed orders that unintentionally led to the loss of civilian life. There were tragic examples of that during the Kosovo bombings, when bombing orders led to the deaths of civilians. There was also the question of whether it was right to offer protection to the people of Kosovo while refusing to allow allied planes to fly at lower altitudes, which might have reduced the risk to civilians.
Of course, that does not mean that it would be right to accuse the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister of being war criminals, as some in Serbia have argued. Nor, of course, does it mean that Lady Thatcher was a war criminal when she ordered the retaking of the Falklands. More importantly, perhaps, it does not mean that the pilots who flew on the missions were guilty of war crimes. It would be wrong, and the British people believe that it would be wrong, if British troops were subjected to politically motivated prosecutions or threats of prosecution for carrying out their duties in distant foreign lands. Yet there is a belief that such a threat exists.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us who represent military constituencies, as he knows I do, share the concerns expressed by the Chief of the Defence Staff when he gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill? He made it clear that although he had been advised that prosecution of a junior officer was unlikely, he could not feel that the word "unlikely" filled him with much confidence. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Chief of the Defence Staff, as I do?
Mr. Maude: I am coming to precisely that point, which is of great importance. The Foreign Secretary and other Ministers can offer all the bland reassurances that we have heard from them, but the reality is that soldiers, sailors and airmen will take seriously the doubts expressed by their military leaders and will, frankly, find them more persuasive than the reassurances of politicians of any colour. These are not fanciful concerns, but Ministers have sought glibly to brush them aside, giving bland reassurances that have failed to allay them.
Mr. Cash: Clause 66, which deals with the mental element or test that I mentioned earlier, says:
"Account may also be taken of any other relevant international jurisprudence."
Mr. Maude: We have specific concerns about the mental intent element allowed for in the statute for some of the offences. If my hon. Friend wants to pursue those points later in the debate or in Committee, he will be doing the House a service.
On our specific concerns about the armed forces, it is helpful to consider recent exchanges. On 7 March, the former NATO commander Admiral Eberle said:
Mr. Maude: I shall finish this point first, because it is central to the matter.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) said, the concerns had been expressed by Admiral Boyce, the recently appointed Chief of Defence Staff, in evidence to a Committee of the House only two days before Baroness Scotland was speaking. The transcript of his remarks only became available some little time later. The House should pay attention to what he said. He was asked about concerns relating to the Bill, and he said:
Mr. Maude: I shall finish the sentence if the Minister wants me to, because the national court would have the opportunity to investigate the case if it were pointed in that direction by the ICC. That is simply an explanation, and I accept that it may be highly unlikely that that eventuality would occur, but when the Chief of the Defence Staff was probed a little further on whether that assurance gave him sufficient comfort, he said: