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Mrs. Gillan: The Minister makes my point for me. This is a complex Bill which involves serious issues, not a simple look at a proposed statute. It involves discussing the concepts around the Bill, its implications and outcomes. The Minister's list makes my case that the legislation deserves full scrutiny.
Will my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) draw to the attention of the House the huge constitutional implications involved in passing the Bill today? We are handing over to an extra-territorial body--not the United Nations or the European Union, but a court--constitutional powers that properly belong to this Chamber.
Mrs. Gillan: My hon. and learned Friend has made valid points that have been repeated at several stages during the Committee's proceedings, and I feel sure that when he moves amendments in his own right from the Front Bench, he will add to them. He is right. We are putting on to the statute book our agreement to a treaty. From debates in Committee, it seems to be a pick-and-mix affair. The Government could pick and choose bits from the treaty that they wanted to include in the legislation and disregard other parts. Those matters deserve a great deal of scrutiny. In considering something that is so long term, with such vast constitutional implications, we owe it to the electorate to do our job properly by scrutinising the Bill and making sure that we have examined everything in detail.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) made a profound point. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) agree that its significance is heightened by our knowledge that under the Standing Orders of this House, there is a prohibition on the tabling of oral questions that seek Ministers' exegesis of treaty articles? Does that not underline how crucial it is to have adequate time this afternoon for proper consideration, for once this afternoon's opportunity has passed, there might be no other?
Some Labour Members have said that our attitude to the Bill means that we are opposed to the International Criminal Court. We are no such thing. Conservative Front-Bench Members have consistently said that they support the principles behind the Bill, and who would not? However, we would be failing in our duty if we did not scrutinise the Bill properly. I think that, in all honesty, the Minister agrees with me on that fundamental point.
Mrs. Gillan: There is not much time on this programme motion, and I know that some of my colleagues wish to speak. I would like to take up some of the points that the Minister made in moving the programming motion. The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity later.
Some of the Minister's arguments about the programming of this stage of the Bill are utter rubbish. He says that he wants Britain to be among the first 60 countries to sign up to the statute, so it is desperately important to get the Bill on to the statute book now. If it was so desperately important, why did nothing happen after the Foreign Secretary--who is not in his place--said on 20 July 1998 that we would be among the first 60 countries to ratify the statute? That is an example of the Labour party saying one thing and doing another.
From 20 July 1998 onwards, the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers could easily have introduced legislation in this House and had a perfectly adequate period of time in which to discuss it. On 27 October 1999--more than a year later--I called for legislation to be brought forward so that the House could do its job properly, scrutinise it over a long period of time and get it right, but I am afraid that nothing happened.
Mrs. Gillan: The Minister must have a selective memory. The consultation process on the Bill took place largely during the recess. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary complaining about the short time available. The Government suddenly woke up to the fact that they had done nothing about this, and that it was one of their do-gooding poses.
Mrs. Gillan: I am sorry if I am stepping outside the bounds of the programming motion, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the Minister raised it on an intervention, and I think it right to put the House straight on the consultation process if he is claiming that it was a contributory factor in cutting short the scrutiny of the Bill at this stage. Despite repeated calls from this side of the House for the legislation to be introduced in short order, nothing happened. There was complete inaction.
The motion does not surprise me. It fits into the Government's pattern of falling back on what used to be the guillotine and is now the programming process. At this stage of the Parliament, it is worth recalling that in this Session, 22 Bills have been programmed in this House. Only four have not been programmed--three consolidated fund measures, which go through on one day, and a capital allowances measure. The Government are willing to continue to subscribe to the stifling of debate on important matters such as the scrutiny of the Bill without caring a fig. The Minister shakes his head, but he does not care a fig.
Because Conservative Front-Bench Members, who have spoken on this matter consistently over the past two or three years, have asked for legislation to be introduced, there have been plenty of opportunities for the Minister to discuss it with us and negotiate its passage. Yet the Government brought the Bill forward at the eleventh hour, when they knew full well that they would be calling a general election. It was foot and mouth disease that diverted the date of the election. The Government chose
The Minister said that Britain needs to be among the first 60 to ratify the statute. This year, only two countries have done so--Andorra and Argentina. One of the reasons for guillotining proceedings on the Bill may be so that we can be among the top 60, but there are still 30 countries to go. Today, I received a read-out showing the rate at which countries are ratifying the treaty: it is not with great rapidity. The Minister cannot, therefore, deploy that argument in his favour at this stage.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): We need an International Criminal Court for the same reason that I have to go to Scotland yard in half an hour to discuss bringing Iraqi war criminals to justice--because no such court is in being. The faster that we can set up the court, the better it will be for the sufferers of torture, of crimes against humanity, of genocide and so on. That is why I urge the hon. Lady to give the Bill full speed.
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Lady is well known for her good work and I hope that her meeting goes well. However, the absence of an International Criminal Court has not prevented criminals from being brought to justice. There were tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The court will be a vehicle whereby people can be brought to justice. Let us face the facts, however: the hon. Lady knows that, given the programme motion and the Government's railroading attitude, of course the measure will be passed. I should like an International Criminal Court--I make no bones about that--but I do not see why I should roll over and accept the Government's imperfect proposals which do not offer the protections needed for our citizens, especially our armed services personnel.
There is no point in introducing half measures. Once a measure is on the statute book, it is in the statute book, so we have a duty to work on the proposals, in the House, in a timely and proper fashion--not in a rushed way, at the fag end of a Parliament. I hope that the Government are swept from power at the election, that we return to office and can consider the measure properly. We will bring common sense to bear on it.
Other hon. Members want to speak. I willingly put on record the fact that the programme motion is disgraceful. The Government have constantly eroded democracy and this measure is a flagship for that erosion. The Bill should have been negotiated between the Front Benches and should have been discussed during the body of a Parliament--not slipped in, slyly, at the end. We shall vote against the motion as a protest.