Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Although my right hon. Friend has drawn to the House's attention the clear reservations of the Chief of the Defence Staff, he will have noted that the Foreign Secretary, in answer to my earlier intervention, said that he had received no representations from the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Robin Cook: The Secretary of State had received no representations.

Mr. Howarth: We are getting to the truth that the Secretary of State for Defence had received no representations. Will my right hon. Friend say whether it is likely, therefore, that the chiefs of staff have not been talking to the Secretary of State for Defence about those very serious reservations?

Mr. Maude: If the Secretary of State for Defence says that he received no representations at any stage, we of course accept that. Perhaps the serious concerns that the Chief of the Defence Staff expressed to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill were completely spontaneous. Perhaps he had not thought about such

3 Apr 2001 : Column 233

matters before, and it was the first time that they had been discussed, but somehow we all find that a tiny bit unlikely.

Dr. Starkey rose--

Mr. Maude: I shall give way to the hon. Lady, but then I want to make progress because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

Dr. Starkey: I am trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument, and I am in some difficulty. Will he confirm that, when members of our armed forces operate abroad, they have a code of conduct appropriate to the operation that they are undertaking, which sets out very clearly, essentially, what they are allowed and not allowed to do under international law in that situation, and that ordinary soldiers know full well that if they break those rules of engagement, they will be held to account? Will he explain why that is so very different from what he suggests?

Mr. Maude: If the hon. Lady does not understand that there is a real difference in the effect on the mind between those who frequently make instant decisions facing the prospect of disciplinary proceedings in the armed forces, or even prosecution, possibly by a domestic court, and a process that is international in character and out of the control of those who command the armed forces nationally, she should try talking to some of the officers. Indeed, she might like to talk to Admiral Boyce, just appointed by the Government as Chief of the Defence Staff, who is expressing precisely those concerns.

Mr. Browne: rose--

Mr. Maude: I shall give way if the hon. Gentleman presses me to do so, but I am keen to make progress.

Mr. Browne: I must press the right hon. Gentleman to give way. I am grateful to him for giving way, and I am listening very carefully to what he says. I understand the distinction that he makes between the temporal nature of the Yugoslav tribunal and the International Criminal Court, and it is an important distinction to make. However, the points of principle--which he seems to share, although he has not actually said so--in relation to the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the ICC are identical. His Government made our soldiers subject to that tribunal, which takes precedence over our national courts and is not complementary to them. Did he have those concerns when he, as a member of that Government, made our soldiers subject to that tribunal?

Mr. Maude: To be precise, I was not a member of the Government; nor was I a Member of Parliament at the time. The hon. Gentleman makes the point in the opening part of his intervention that an ad hoc tribunal, which is limited in area and in time, deserves different consideration. The statute relating to the international criminal tribunal for Yugoslavia was not embedded into domestic law, but if the ICC statute were embedded into domestic law, it would be a different matter.

Mr. Browne: What about the principle?

Mr. Maude: Those concerns are not absolute ones of principle; they have a practical effect. If a senior officer

3 Apr 2001 : Column 234

of the British armed forces says that they are real concerns, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Government Benches should at least do him, and our armed forces, the courtesy of taking those concerns seriously. That is what we shall do, which is why we shall probe and press those matters as the Bill passes through the House.

Will the Foreign Secretary categorically tell the House today that Admiral Boyce's concerns have now been completely met and that, if Admiral Boyce were to be interviewed by the Select Committee once again, he would say that he has now been given "a completely unequivocal statement"? Will the Foreign Secretary respond?

Mr. Robin Cook: I am very happy to respond to the right hon. Gentleman because it gives me the opportunity to repeat a passage of my speech that he obviously did not fully absorb when I delivered it. I told the House that British service personnel will never be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court because any bona fide allegation will be pursued by the British authorities. That is certainly unequivocal. No one could point to anything in that statement that lacks conviction; it is a comprehensive statement.

I return to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) asked the right hon. Gentleman. He is mistaken about the war crimes tribunal. As far as I am aware, no time limit has been set for that tribunal; it can last for ever. It is confined only in its geographical coverage. That coverage contains several thousand British soldiers, and it did when the right hon. Gentleman's Government applied the war crimes tribunal to that region. Why is it wrong for us to act on the same principles on which they acted, when we have a cover that they did not provide for British troops--if they are tried before a British court, the international court does not apply. That was not the case when the Conservative Government adopted the war crimes tribunal. They did not give British personnel the safeguards that we are giving them.

Mr. Maude: The Foreign Secretary asserts that British armed forces personnel will never be tried for the reasons that he sets out, but he put that differently earlier. I was listening to his speech, and he invited the House to put its faith in the robustness of the British legal system, saying that the ICC would, as a matter of automatic trust, accept that such matters had been fully investigated and pursued domestically, so that, in practical terms, there could be no question of their being pursued by the ICC. With respect, that is not the same as providing a cast-iron guarantee, such as that sought by Admiral Boyce, that that will not arise. It is still in the category of being highly unlikely.

If the Foreign Secretary is willing to make the robust assertion that no armed forces personnel can be pursued in the ICC in that way, perhaps he would like to tell that to the very active QC, Geoffrey Robertson, who pursues such matters vigorously and has said:

I accept that he said, "in theory"--

3 Apr 2001 : Column 235

Mr. Brazier: My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful case. Will he make it clear to the House that if we find the Government unwilling to accept the amendments that he will move in Committee, and if the Third Reading debate takes place before the election, we shall feel obliged to vote against the Bill on Third Reading?

Mr. Maude: I am coming on to that.

Mr. Worthington rose--

Dr. Starkey rose--

Mr. Maude: I shall not give way again because I have given way a great deal. I have been speaking for quite some time, and many hon. Members wish to contribute to this important debate.

I shall deal with the four specific amendments with which we are particularly concerned. They are necessary for the Bill to become acceptable, and we shall want to vote against the Bill's Third Reading if they are not accepted.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Excellent. Tell the court's supporters.

Mr. Maude: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman says "Excellent". That shows that, if anyone is playing political games, it is not Conservative Members. We have repeatedly and consistently said that we are in favour of the proposal, but it is spectacularly helpful of the hon. Gentleman to point out to the House and to the public that one party--the Labour party--is relentlessly playing electoral politics with the issue. We have taken a consistent and principled stance, and we shall continue to do so.

Next Section

IndexHome Page