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Mr. Gerald Howarth: The hon. Lady cannot make that assertion. She can say that any of our forces brought before our domestic courts will certainly get a fair trial, and that our judges, sharing the same culture, will understand the circumstances, but she cannot guarantee that the ICC will not seek to second-guess the decisions of the United Kingdom courts and take a wholly different view.

Ms King: This is exactly the point: if we are able to show that we have had a thorough investigation, the ICC has no jurisdiction over our armed forces. Does not the hon. Gentleman understand the concept of complementarity around which the proposal is based?

Mr. Blunt: The hon. Lady should consult article 20, paragraph 3(b) of which refers to trials in the United Kingdom that

It is the ICC that will have to interpret that article.

Ms King: The hon. Gentleman has to recognise that the Government, and the previous Conservative Government, in signing the conventions, have accepted the jurisdiction of people who may not be British. We should uphold the rule of law and recognise the many built-in mechanisms that would prevent British service people from being brought before the ICC--for example, the role of the Security Council--unless we committed genocide by accident, say--and if we did, frankly, we should indeed be subject to the court. How can we

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command any respect if we argue, as Conservative Members appear to be arguing, that we want the law to apply, but not to us?

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Lady, whose sincerity and conviction I respect, is clearly content to accept the soothing bromides of the Foreign Secretary, but I for one, as someone who is sympathetic to the establishment of the ICC, am not. I invite her to envisage a scenario in which the Government of the day contend that they have conducted a genuine and thoroughgoing investigation into allegations of abuses committed by our armed forces, but the main Opposition party of the day contends that the investigation was defective, whereupon the ICC invokes that fact in support of its decision to bring proceedings.

Ms King: That would be a court case. I do not follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument. I cannot envisage circumstances in which, for example, the British Government conducted their own investigation, the ICC felt that we were not able to prove that the investigation was sufficiently thorough or unbiased and, on top of all that, the Security Council had no wish to impede the case's progress to the ICC. We must not expect that our armed forces will be protected no matter what; they will be protected because their behaviour, on the whole, reaches the highest standards in the world. On the whole, our armed forces do not go around perpetrating crimes against humanity. However, if they do, I hope that they will not be free from the jurisdiction of the ICC.

In conclusion, I underline the importance of the Bill in establishing a permanent and--I hope--universal jurisdiction for punishing the perpetrators of the world's most heinous crimes. Considering the blood-splattered history of the previous century, surely this is the building block we need. It will take us forward and prevent the recurrence of what has happened in the past. It will make the slogan "never again" a reality.

8.41 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). I well remember the excellent Adjournment debate that she introduced in October 1999, when I had the pleasure of participating and endorsing most of what she said. Contrary to what some people might think, there is much consensus on the issue across the Floor.

The war crimes aspect causes most concern, where it shades into the conduct of military activity in future conflicts and the way in which military personnel might be held to account. However, I want to leave that point until the end of my remarks and concentrate on the aspects of genocide and crimes against humanity, for which there are at least six good reasons why one needs an International Criminal Court--if satisfactory procedures for operating it can be agreed. The first reason is to punish past killers; the second is to deter future killers; the third is to embarrass those who shelter killers; the fourth is to force countries to put the killers in their midst on trial; the fifth is to prove beyond doubt that the killings actually took place; and the sixth is to bring out aspects of the truth that might otherwise remain hidden.

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I shall deal briefly with those reasons in turn--beginning with punishment. I make no bones about the fact that I believe in the virtue of retribution for its own sake. That is an unfashionable statement, but if the concept of punishment or retribution means anything at all in the 21st century, it should certainly apply to the crimes we are talking about--genocide and crimes against humanity. Those are crimes whereby whole swathes of people are eliminated on a group basis. People who have done nothing whatever to incur the hatred, disdain or dislike of the people who attack them are nevertheless liquidated without semblance of pity or mercy. Even if it would not deter one future criminal from the acts committed by mass murderers in the past, every mass murderer whom it is in our power to punish should be punished because it is a matter of natural justice; the blood of the victims cries out for punishment to be carried out.

I shall briefly refer to three examples. I hope that the House will forgive me if I go back to the period about which I know most--the second world war. The first example is Josef Mengele, the angel of death of Auschwitz, who, we now know, died in Brazil. We also know that he was so confident of not being punished that for many years he lived openly under his own name and his family in Germany were in communication with him. That tells us that if the authorities in Germany had had a real will to track down Mengele and bring him to justice, they could easily have done so. It is not for me to speculate why they did not.

The second example is Walter Rauff, the man who invented mobile gas vans. They sometimes had a red cross on the side, but Jews were herded into them and exhaust gases were automatically funnelled into the back so that as the van drove off they were asphyxiated in the most excruciating manner. There are fascinating documents in the archives about the care and attention with which German firms that are still trading today designed those devilish contraptions--to make sure that the "waste materials" and other substances derived from the "process" would not impede the operation of the van. Walter Rauff also lived openly in south America for many years, even being interviewed by magazines, but he was never brought to justice. I like to think that, for all the reasons that I enumerated, an International Criminal Court would have made it much more difficult for him to escape the fate that he richly deserved.

The third case is one that I mentioned briefly in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary--that of Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann's right-hand man, who was personally responsible for organising the death of more than 40,000 Austrian civilians, more than 40,000 Greek civilians, more than 20,000 French civilians and many Slovaks. He was known, at least by the 1980s, to be living in Syria under the name of Georg Fischer, as an honoured guest of, and an adviser to, the Syrian Government. I have raised the matter in the House on at least half a dozen occasions, in July 1998, July and October 1999 and in March and June 2000.

On 20 June 2000 I thought that I was making progress. I asked the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), whether one contribution towards the building of trust between Syria and Israel would be for the new Syrian regime to clear up the mystery of its long-term sheltering in Damascus of the architect of the holocaust in wartime France and elsewhere, Alois Brunner. I asked

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whether the Government would make representations to the Syrian regime indicating that it could not expect to be taken seriously in the search for peace as long as a war criminal of that magnitude was sheltered.

The Minister replied that he would look into the matter and write to me. Eventually, he wrote to me in August of that year, and I was much encouraged by what he wrote because there had been a change of regime in Syria. He said that, with the passing of President Hafez al-Assad, more information "might become available" about Brunner. He said also that it might be possible for the Government to make representations once the new leadership in Syria had "settled in".

It was with some confidence, therefore, that I asked another question on 27 February this year. I asked what representations had been made to the Syrian regime about the sheltering of that dreadful man, only to be told by the present Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz):

We heard the Foreign Secretary say this afternoon that if I had fresh evidence, he might consider making representations.

My question in February was timely because, at the beginning of March, a French court thought enough of the possibility that Brunner was still alive and being sheltered in Syria to sentence him, in absentia, to life imprisonment. If the French Government can organise a trial to sentence a missing murderer to life imprisonment, I am disappointed--to put it mildly--that our own Foreign Office seems to have set its face against doing anything, even at the modest level of making representations to the new Syrian Government, especially when the former Minister of State suggested that he was minded to do so.

Perhaps the background is that some professional diplomats in the Foreign Office think that it is not such a good idea to stir up feelings that might upset our relationship with the new Syrian Government, by pursuing that terrible criminal. Even if he is dead--he would only be 88, and plenty of people of that age are still going strong today, including my father--it is important that the record is set straight if Syria, under its new regime, is to be taken seriously in the comity of international society.

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