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3 Apr 2001 : Column 280

International Criminal Court Bill [Lords] (Programme)

9.59 pm

Mr. Battle: I beg to move,

We consider that 3 May is an appropriate date for the completion of the Committee stage--as the motion sets out. Detailed arrangements for the Committee sittings will, of course, be for the Programming Sub-Committee to decide.

The Bill has already undergone much public debate and scrutiny. We invited consultation and we received more than 45 submissions from legal experts, human rights experts and professional bodies, which helped in drawing up the Bill. The Bill has undergone scrutiny in the other place. The level of concern expressed there and during the passage of the Bill to date leads us to conclude that the date we have proposed gives a reasonable time for its consideration. More important, it will allow us to get on with the Bill so that we, too, can sign up to the statute. It is important that we are among the first 60 states to sign, so that we can be part of the formative process.

I ask the House to accept the motion.

10.1 pm

Mrs. Gillan: The way in which the Minister has just moved the motion takes my breath away. He has decided that 3 May is the appropriate date and feels that the Bill has already undergone sufficient public debate and scrutiny.

We are lucky that the Bill is even going into Committee. The Prime Minister's decision to postpone the general election has undoubtedly given us extra time in

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this Session, for which I suppose we should be grateful. Only two weeks ago, it looked as though we would be unable to examine the Bill as it deserves--given the unresolved concerns that have already been expressed both in the Chamber and, earlier this year, in another place. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) said in his opening remarks on Second Reading, the concerns of those whom the Bill will most affect--the armed services--should and must receive the full attention and scrutiny of the House.

The Minister claims that the Bill received full scrutiny in the other place and that the fact that it underwent a consultation process, in which 45 submissions were made, is sufficient to justify this appalling timetable motion. Once again, an intellectually bankrupt programme motion is before the House; it effectively restricts the length of time during which elected Members can discuss an important measure.

Even before the measure is out of the starting gate in this place, the Minister tries to set down the parameters that--in his view--give a reasonable time. In whose judgment is the time reasonable? Is it just that of the Minister? Is it that of his advisers? Is it that of the Government? Is it that of No. 10? Is it that of the Minister's Cabinet colleagues? Is it that of the Foreign Secretary, or indeed that of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), whose immature interventions during Second Reading added nothing to the scrutiny process?

Mr. Forth: May I try to help my hon. Friend? She speculates that the date may have been determined by No. 10. I suggest that that is most unlikely as No. 10 is incapable of deciding any date relating to anything at any time.

Mrs. Gillan: My right hon. Friend may say that, but I could not possibly comment--although we all know exactly what he means: No. 10 seems to be incapable of making a decision without consulting ex-Cabinet Ministers and various other people.

The Minister is getting hot under the collar. No doubt he will get even hotter under the collar when he realises that he could have delivered the Bill by taking a much healthier and more mature approach to the scrutiny process. He could have dealt with it in the spirit in which we have tried to co-operate, without using the heavy hand of a timetabling motion at the eleventh hour of this Government.

The Minister's argument relies on the consultation process, during which, he says, he received 45 submissions. I remind him that the original statement on the matter was made on 20 July 1998, but that it took until 25 August last year for a Bill to appear. All that time passed before this desperately required legislation, which has to be rushed through now so that Britain will be among the first 60 countries to participate, emerged. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the Minister is shouting, "Consultation, consultation, consultation." Where have I heard a word repeated three times before?

Let me remind the Minister of a few facts about the consultation. The Bill was published on 25 August, and it was announced that the consultation period would last until 12 October. The House was in recess at the time,

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so Members had a fine chance to be involved in the consultation. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary pointing out that the entire process was taking place during the recess, and he very generously extended it to 27 October. He wrote to me on 9 October about that, but obviously the Department was in recess because the letter did not arrive in my office until 17 October.

The House returned on 23 October, and you, Mr. Speaker, will remember what we were doing on that day because it was a matter of great importance to yourself--we were electing the Speaker of the House. It is hard to imagine that Members would have had the opportunity thoroughly to consult and examine the Bill on the first day back, when they were electing the Speaker. In fact, the Foreign Secretary's generosity gave Members a full three days during which the House was sitting to make their submissions. When the Minister prays in aid the fact that the matter has already had sufficient public debate and scrutiny, he is trying to cheat the public of their debate and scrutiny by giving a false impression.

Mr. Maclennan: In the light of the nice remarks that the hon. Lady made about me earlier, I am somewhat reluctant to intervene, but I have to say that, if she continues in this vein, she may give sustenance to the view that is widely held by the public--which in my view is erroneous--that when the House is in recess, MPs are not working. One might draw that conclusion from the fact that neither the hon. Lady nor her party chose to give evidence to the Government during the consultation. However, it was perfectly possible to do so, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) did.

Mr. Speaker: That was a long intervention.

Mrs. Gillan: It was a great pleasure to give way to the right hon. Gentleman, Mr. Speaker. I assure him that he can be as nasty to me as he likes, even though I made nice remarks about him. I do not think that he was being particularly nasty; it was a gentle savaging of the cotton-wool type.

I would not want to give the impression that hon. Members do not work during the recess, but it is not outwith the bounds of possibility that certain hon. Members who work extremely hard and take their business in this place very seriously will take a few days off from time to time, and it is not outwith the bounds of reasonableness that they should do so during the recess. I feel that a Government who made such a song and dance about introducing legislation as long ago as 20 July 1998 could have managed a consultation process that fell mainly during the time when the House was sitting.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I appreciate the hon. Lady's giving way on that point because she will remember that she and I debated the issue at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference during the recess in September, and I was on the winning side in saying that such legislation should be introduced. Have we been helped, yet again, by events? If it had not been for recent events, we would not have been able to debate the Bill on 3 May. There is an argument about incisiveness. Why should the Bill be rushed now that it seems we have time left to us that we did not have before?

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