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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I cannot have two right hon. Gentlemen on their feet at the same time. I think that I can ask the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) to wait until the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has signified that he is giving way.
Mr. Maude: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He accused me of having distorted the comments of the Chief of the Defence Staff, but I quoted the Chief of the Defence Staff absolutely verbatim. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that someone who occupies such a position is prone to making casual, off-the-cuff remarks about a matter of such gravity, he has a much lower opinion of him than I do.
Mr. Maclennan: I most certainly did not suggest that, because we have heard those words and read them on a number of occasions. They have been repeated ad nauseam on the Floor of the House and in Committee, but they do not sustain the weight or the interpretation that has been attached to them. That is the point that I wanted to make. The Conservative spokesman is ignoring the whole purpose and point of the Bill and that should not go unchallenged. It is very much in the interests of our armed services that the rule of international law and the extension of the effectiveness of sanctions against abuses
Mr. Browne: I rise to oppose the amendments, if not in the same style, at least with the same quality of indignation that was expressed by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). The suggestion that the only hon. Members who can speak effectively on behalf of the safety and security of our armed forces are the few Conservative Members who have spoken today is an untruth that has to be put in its place. Looking at the amendments and the intellectual discipline that lies behind them, I suspect that they are nothing more than a lame excuse for an opportunity to vote against the Bill.
My first point was also made by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and concerns the reliance that we place on the rule of law in relation to war for the protection of not only our armed forces, but our civilian population in a time of conflict. I made that point in Committee and it has never been addressed by anyone who has spoken in favour of amendments or in opposition to the Bill from the point of view that has been expressed by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) or anyone else.
What message do we give other countries if we start to pick and choose when our soldiers will be subject to the rule of law in relation to war? What protection do we give our armed forces in the long term if we say to them that we are going into war in a situation where those with whom we are in conflict know that we have excused our armed forces from being subject to the jurisdiction of the court that will enforce these laws? If that cannot be answered other than by saying, "I am addressing this subject as a Member of the British Parliament", it does not stand examination.
Mr. Blunt: The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that he cannot have his cake and eat it. The amendment would simply take into account article 124 and allow the armed forces to be exempt for seven years from article 8, which is the area of greatest concern to the armed forces and relates to a court over which we have precious little control, unlike the international tribunal over Yugoslavia, and to the nominations of the prosecutor and the judges. Britain has far less influence over how article 8 will be applied. For seven years, our armed forces will be able to see how the International Criminal Court works in respect of our armed forces. If, after seven years, we are content with the justice meted out by the British courts--as he rightly points out, British soldiers are subject to all the laws that the statute implements--we will be in a position to decide how the ICC is working. That is the purpose of the protection that we should be giving our armed forces.
Why should we in the UK have the arrogance to say that the court should practise on other countries' nationals while we watch to see whether the standard of justice is good enough for ours? What sort of message is that for a civilised country to send?
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): We will hand over the selection of the prosecutor and judges of the International Criminal Court to all the nations that sign up, regardless of their size and weight. Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to make such a change in relation to the United Nations, so that power was handed over to the General Assembly without the limitations of the Security Council? Does he understand the comparison?
Mr. Browne: That is not a true analogy. The statute has been agreed by sovereign nations that discussed and negotiated a draft statute in a concentrated fashion against a set of international standards that they all accepted. They arrived at the statute in that fashion and, as one of the countries that put considerable effort into the eventual shape of the statute, we have agreed to ratify it. Importantly, we also agreed to treat the statute with the respect that it deserves. We undertook to put our faith in it and to work to ensure that the ICC can deliver what we hope it will deliver for peace in the world and the protection of humanity.
At this stage, we cannot say, in effect, to the ICC, "Go away and practise on all the wee countries and when you have got it right and are up to a standard that we think is appropriate, then we will let our people be subject to its jurisdiction." We cannot do that.
Mr. Browne: We can if we want to give up our leadership role. If we want to retain that role and imbue the court with the standards that have been generated by our system of justice--of which we are all rightly proud--we have to play an active role from the outset and have the confidence to make our citizens subject to its jurisdiction.
Mr. Blunt: Which other nation--other than France, which has taken this exemption--of those that will probably ratify the treaty, has the same commitment of its soldiers around the world as a contribution to international
Mr. Browne: The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) earlier said, with heavy irony, that I know everything, but I do not know the answer to that question. There is no point in my pretending that I do or giving the hon. Gentleman some smart reply, but that is not the point. We are not talking about justice by weighted majority. Opposition Members' arguments seem to depend on the size of a country's armed forces, or whether the armed forces involved are British. The contribution of sovereign nations to international justice must not be judged according to the number of citizens that they have or according to the size of their standing armies. Their contribution must be judged according to principles of decency, law and justice.
Mr. Browne: With respect, it is not the national interest. The Opposition are using the argument as an excuse to vote against the Bill. The new clause purports to offer a principled reason for opposition to the measure, but no real principle is at stake. The Opposition contribution to debate on this Bill, on Second Reading and in Committee, has been a total pretence. They have pretended that, in principle, they are in favour of it, but all the time they have been constructing an excuse to vote against it at this stage in its progress. The truth behind that pretence is now visible.