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9.46 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): We will be able to look back on tonight as the night that we introduced a Bill proposing putting the full weight of the House of Commons behind the establishment of the International Criminal Court. That will be a giant step forward for universal human rights and the rule of international law. For the first time, there will be a truly international body to try individuals responsible for the worst crimes known to humankind.

It is a night that we can be proud of, and we can be proud of the pivotal contribution of the United Kingdom legal team to the creation of the ICC in the first place. The statute is an international agreement that results from a protracted negotiation. It is in the nature of international agreements that we cannot get all that we want. Nevertheless, the Bill is in good shape and the International Criminal Court is shaping up.

Our aim in Rome was, above all, to secure an effective court that enjoyed the maximum international support. That was achieved to an extent that exceeded our

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expectations. Even better, support for the court has been maintained and has even grown since Rome. More than two thirds of the international community has signed the ICC statute and we are encouraging all countries to do so. We are pleased that the United States is a signatory and we hope that it will in time also ratify the statute. We will continue to encourage all those who have not signed to do so.

I know that many right hon. and hon. Members will be disappointed at being unable to take part in the debate. I think that for the first time in my 14 years, we have had a reflective and thoughtful debate on both sides of the Chamber. We have had a good turnout, with Members queueing to contribute. It is a pity that we do not have more time, but tonight's proceedings have reflected the seriousness with which the House is taking the matter. This is an international step forward.

Detailed questions have been asked and I will do my best to respond to them in the brief time available to me. The right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) referred to the relationship between the international criminal courts that the previous Government set up in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the provisions were embedded in domestic law. Two Orders in Council were passed under the previous Government in 1996 in accordance with the United Nations Act 1946.

I do not have time to go through all the right hon. Gentleman's amendments in detail, but he mentioned clause 65. Command responsibility is a well-established principle of international law that reflects the hierarchical structure of disciplined forces, but the language of clause 65 is taken directly from the ICC statute. There is nothing new or difficult in the language, but to exclude it or adopt different language would mean that a criminal responsibility could be prosecuted by the ICC but not by our domestic courts. In other words, ironically, it would increase the possibility of our service personnel being brought before the ICC. It is important for the protection of the armed forces that the test for command responsibility, under the statute and the Bill, remains the same. I look forward to the detail of any amendment that may be tabled on this point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said that it was important to welcome the Bill warmly and to be enthusiastic about it. He mentioned retrospection, and I shall refer to that later. He said also that we should be building a culture of justice against a culture of impunity; that was a good summary of the Bill.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). This may have been his last speech in the House and he said that the Bill was one of the most important that he had debated in his 35 years here. He always makes thoughtful and reflective speeches, with his legal expertise on these matters, and we thank him for his contribution. He mentioned that he introduced the Tokyo Convention Bill, which started these debates some years ago.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) brought a wide-ranging historical perspective to the debate and showed that the purpose of the court will be to fulfil the historic ambition of the

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United Nations of nearly 50 years ago. We are getting there. He mentioned residence, and I shall return to that point.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) spoke of the noble objectives of the Bill, and that has been an important part of the debate. We must not lose sight of the primary objectives. We must try to get the details right, but keep the objectives in mind. We are continuing to deal with difficult questions and terrible decisions in the context of international law, but we must get this international agreement up and running.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) reminded us that we must learn from the Holocaust, and from events in Rwanda, Cambodia and elsewhere. She also injected a note of urgency. The purpose of our activity tonight, and of taking the Bill into Committee, is that we are seeking to be one of the first 60 signatories to help to shape the court and to be involved in the process of saying who the judges are and what its procedures are--but we must be at the table.

Mr. Blunt: The Minister has just said that we want to be one of the first 60 signatories in order to have a say in who the judges are. Will he confirm that we will have no more say than any of the other initial signatories?

Mr. Battle: If we are not one of the 60, we will not have a say at all. I sensed a worrying theme in the hon. Gentleman's speech and interventions; he was worried about foreign judges, rather than about getting the court up and running.

The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) raised a serious question about the rights of the accused. We will return to the matter in Committee, but part 6 and clauses 55 and 67 provide safeguards for the accused.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), who has participated in such debates before, used a helpful phrase--"international institution- building". We are doing the best we can in the circumstances. I will return to the questions of universal jurisdiction and discretion that she mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has campaigned to tackle human rights abuses for some years and I know that he sees the Bill as a step forward. It will give hope to people whose human rights are abused. Incidentally, we can both welcome the fact that the UN High Commissioner has applied to extend her term for a further year.

The question of residence came up in several speeches, along with that of universal jurisdiction. We have a long-established practice of taking universal jurisdiction only as part of international law. The problem is that the statute does not require universal jurisdiction, so we do not think that we should go it alone and unilaterally say that we will do it all if the court will not do it. We could debate that in further detail, but the principle is that we would not stand in the way of extradition to another state, as provided for in the Bill, or of transfer to the ICC, but we cannot set ourselves up as a substitute court and go further than is proposed in the statute.

The concept of residence has clear links to UK law, including the War Crimes Act 1991 and the Sex Offenders Act 1997. There is a term in our law that is not the same as "presence" in the Canadian law.

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Conservative Members stress their concerns about the armed forces. There is a fundamental misunderstanding, because we do not believe that the Bill poses a threat to our armed forces, and it will have no impact on their existing rules of engagement. The ICC makes no changes to the fundamental laws of war under which our forces operate, and which I assume are part of their training.

I remind the House that the former head of the British Army legal services, Major-General Tony Rogers, wrote:

The fear that the Bill would expose our services is unjustified.

The Bill is no threat to our armed forces and it will make a real difference to the lives of potential victims. If we are seriously concerned about the court's effectiveness, the best way forward is to pass robust legislation, get the statute ratified quickly and call on other states to do the same, giving the court our full backing.

The former prosecutor for the international tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Judge Richard Goldstone, said:

Our own law will cover the situation.

We have a real opportunity to lead the way in setting up an international framework that will deliver and hold to account those individuals worldwide who are responsible for the worst crimes against humanity. Hitherto, there has been nowhere to bring to justice the Idi Amins, Pol Pots and Saddam Husseins, and there has been nowhere for the survivors of crimes against humanity to seek redress. We owe it to the history of the House and our parliamentary democracy to contribute actively and positively to putting the court in place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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