Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): This is an extremely important debate, and I echo the remarks of the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) in that respect. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) deplored the air of partisanship that had occurred in the debate; I deplore that as well. It was regrettable that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) considered it a matter for party political advantage that Conservative Members might oppose the Bill on Third Reading owing to the practicalities and problems inherent in it.
This is an immensely important measure. The wider case for it was made extremely eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and I pay tribute to him for an excellent speech. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) made an extremely pertinent point. She said that it was absolutely essential that the court should work. If it fails to work, we run the risk of undermining the stability of international relationships. The consequences would be as serious as that, and that is why this is such an important measure. The Bill has the capacity to undermine the willingness of the states that have policed the world since 1945 to carry on bearing that burden and undertaking that role.
If the Bill works as we would like it to work, it may take us forward to a new order of international relations in which proper justice--the true justice that is blind--is administered to those who have carried out such crimes and is applied fairly and freely across the world. In that sense, the efforts behind the establishment of the criminal court and its incorporation in our criminal justice system are much to be welcomed. However, we must consider the background.
In 1951, the United Kingdom undertook to sign up to the European convention on human rights, but it was never expected that our armed forces would be subject to it in the way that they are now. We are in such a position that I and, I am glad to say, my party have come to the view that such is the effect on our armed forces that it is necessary to seek a derogation from the terms of the convention, just as the French were able to do when they signed up to the treaty much later than us. Although the intentions behind the measure are fine, we must be able to tell our armed forces rather more than how it should be implemented. By and large, they will be the means by which the United Kingdom, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, fulfils the role and responsibility that it has taken on in international relations and in policing agreements put in place by the UN.
We have our own interest in international stability, which will always be important to the United Kingdom. Ours is a nation of 60 million people, so it will remain important whatever happens in future. The effect on this country of such a measure will be out of all proportion to that on other countries, so we must be able to tell our armed forces that we know what we are letting them in for. That is why the concerns of the Chief of the Defence Staff, which have been virtually expressed on the record, have to be taken seriously.
To put the matter in detailed focus for hon. Members, I shall relate the experience of a soldier in my old regiment, the 13th/18th Hussars, who happened to be my driver when I was a squadron commander in the late 1980s. I met him again in Bosnia when I was a special
Through such actions, the British forces in Bosnia had achieved a reputation as ones that the bandits did not mess with. That reputation did not adhere to the other forces taking part in the UN operation, because they were not as resolute, not as well-trained and not as prepared at junior non-commissioned officer level to take decisions such as that taken by that soldier. If the Bill is not implemented in the way that we all desire, the consequence will be that our armed forces will lose the will to engage in such operations. The Chief of the Defence Staff has expressed concerns, and how the Bill works is fundamental.
Mr. Browne: I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. So that we can understand the environment in which the events that he is describing took place, can he explain whether that soldier was under the jurisdiction of the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia when he made those decisions? Was he prevented from making the right decisions by being subject to the tribunal's jurisdiction?
Mr. Blunt: Of course, the answer is no. He was subject to that jurisdiction, but I know him and I would not imagine for a moment that he knew either that he was subject to a tribunal or the exact detail of what would happen to him in The Hague if things went wrong. That is another issue, but it leads me to how we teach soldiers the laws of war. That process has to be gone through to bring home to them the consequences of their actions. The more complicated we make that process, and the more detail there is, the more concern we cause the chain of command in relation to people being prepared to take responsibility, and to act in circumstances in which an instant judgment must be made about whether such action is proper.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: Does the hon. Gentleman think his driver was aware that he was subject to the terms of the Geneva convention? If he was, is there any evidence to suggest that British forces in Bosnia or Kosovo have felt in any way inhibited by their responsibility to adhere to the terms of the convention?
Mr. Blunt: I hope that he was. I probably taught him the lessons in the course of military training. However, to an extent the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right: in the terms of the Geneva convention and the laws of war, the actions that he took, according to his judgment, were correct.
That is what will happen if the court works as we want it to work, but I fear that the way in which it is set up may mean that it will not. The state of Israel has declared its concerns about the way in which the treaty had been set up. Part of its declaration states:
The 18 judges will be elected on the basis of one state, one vote. I refer to states that are signatories to the statute, have acceded to it and have ratified it. That would put states such as Mali and Trinidad and Tobago on the same footing as others as large as the United States of America--if, that is, the United States were to become involved in the treaty. A state in the position of the state of Israel, having received the treatment that it has received at the hands of the General Assembly of the United Nations, can be expected to have concerns about the sort of people who will be elected, by secret ballot, as judges to decide these matters.
Once the judges are in place in a permanent institution, that institution--as other hon. Members have said--will be under pressure to act, and to produce work to do. We have seen, both in the institutions of the European Union and in those of the European convention on human rights, judge-made law and the pushing back of its boundaries. Given the nature of the judges who might be elected to serve on the ICC, exactly the same might happen.
Mr. Browne: I am interested by the hon. Gentleman's use of the phrase, "produce work to do". He will know that in the last 50 years of the last century, 860 million people died in conflicts throughout the world. Like other hon. Members, I suspect that, far from the tribunal looking for work to do, work will be queueing up to be done. The notion that the tribunal will go around the world for political reasons looking for work to do is fanciful, is it not?
Mr. Blunt: I hope so, but what if the institution does not work in the way that we intend? What way of protecting the interests of the armed forces is open to us? I am afraid that the House must take account of such considerations. It must consider whether the 170 or 180 states belonging to the United Nations that could accede to the statute could produce an agenda that was against the interests of the permanent members of the Security Council--against, perhaps, the interests of the United States and the United Kingdom--such as the agenda that currently operates in the skies over Iraq.
I should have thought that a large majority in the United Nations would say that the actions of our pilots in bombing Baghdad amount prima facie to a war crime. If the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or the Secretary of State for Defence were not going to be put on trial in the UK, the International Criminal Court, if it had a majority of judges so willed, would seek leave to put a case. That is my concern. Potentially, the way in which the institution is set up will not act in the interests of global stability.
Labour Members have properly advanced the argument that it is right to have an international system of justice and that it is not right for the United Kingdom to say that we should have an opt-out. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) made those points clearly. To an extent, he is right. We will subject ourselves, if the Bill becomes law, to the jurisdiction of the ICC. That is why it is so important, when we act to limit the sovereignty of our action and the ability to conduct our affairs as we would want, that we are confident that the institutions that we are setting up will meet our needs. In the end, our needs are met through nations such as the United States, Great Britain, France,
The United Kingdom and the United States have a proud record of protecting the interests of liberty and freedom in the decades since 1945. The issue is that, in the new world order to be policed by the ICC under the mechanisms set up in the Rome statute, there is a threat to our willingness to go on making the contribution in security terms. The threat has been made explicit in the United States, and I believe that the Senate will never ratify the statute. To an extent, that will undermine its whole effectiveness. The fact that we cannot get the United States to agree to the statute punches a huge hole through it. Of course, it was always going to be enormously difficult, with the traditions and history of the United States, to get the United States Senate to agree to the statute, but I do not believe that the set-up for the election of the judges, who in the end will make the decision, was ever going to be acceptable to the United States.
Within the statute, greater account should have been given to the size and importance of countries. After all, that is why the United Nations Security Council was set up with five permanent members in 1945--it recognised the realities of the security issues of the day. I do not believe, on the amount of attention that I have been able to give to the statute and to the proceedings before us, that we can be satisfied that it does that. I regret that, so far, I have not been able to give the matter the attention that it deserves. I hope to have the opportunity to do so in Committee.