Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman has made that point several times, and I defer to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who has comprehensively demolished his argument on that score. That court was an ad-hoc tribunal, but the International Criminal Court will not be. It will be a major international institution, for all time to come. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) pointed out to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun the difference between the constitutions of the International Criminal Court and the United Nations, and between the influence that the United Kingdom has in the United Nations and its lack of influence in the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Browne: Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that if any of our forces came before the ICTY, we would

10 May 2001 : Column 343

immediately withdraw our support for it? Is the difference between an ad-hoc tribunal and an established court simply that we can withdraw our support from an ad-hoc tribunal the moment that a UK national or member of the British armed forces comes before it? Is our support for international justice conditional on its not applying to us?

Mr. Howarth: The ICTY was set up during the conflict and at the end of the conflict, British troops obviously had not infringed. We are trying to anticipate scenarios where our troops could stand accused of having committed war crimes that were not considered, either by the Government of the United Kingdom or by our courts, to be war crimes.

The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point. He said that there was no guarantee that we could give our troops in respect of the ICTY. I repeat that the Foreign Secretary said:

Does the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun disagree with the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Browne indicated dissent.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman does not disagree with his right hon. Friend, but we are saying that the Foreign Secretary is in no position to give that guarantee, which he has sought to wave in front of Admiral Sir Michael Boyce and the rest of our armed forces.

Mr. Blunt: The point that my hon. Friend is making was illustrated by the Solicitor-General's promise in Committee concerning the fact that the prosecutor of the ICTY decided that the bombing of the television station did not amount to a crime, as far as the Prime Minister was concerned, and that he should not be brought to justice in front of The Hague tribunal. That was a decision of the prosecutor--a prosecutor over whom we had much greater influence and control than we shall have over the prosecutor--

Mr. Robin Cook: Withdraw.

Mr. Blunt: I heard the Foreign Secretary say, "Withdraw."

Mr. Cook rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Foreign Secretary cannot intervene on an intervention, even though he may, like me, have begun to wonder whether it was a speech.

Mr. Blunt: I shall deal with the point if you will let me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Foreign Secretary was saying, "Withdraw." Voting for the prosecutor in the International Criminal Court is by majority, and the United Kingdom and other states could be outvoted. It is clear that we have less influence over the selection of the prosecutor for the ICC than we did over that of the prosecutor in The Hague. That is the simple point that is being made, and so--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions have been getting longer and longer, and it would be better if hon. Members kept perorations out of them.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The exchanges illustrate the nonsense of the Government's position in having tried to

10 May 2001 : Column 344

rush this measure through and force us into a programme motion tonight. This is a very serious issue, which affects our country, and particularly our armed forces. It is a tragedy that the Government have sought to treat the matter in this way.

I said that I had three points to raise, and I have raised two. The first concerned our armed forces, and the second my belief that the complementarity argument was not a sufficient safeguard for our troops. Thirdly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham mentioned, the French have reservations. I am not known for siding naturally with the French, but I can tell the Foreign Secretary that I love going on holiday to France, and that I have a French brother-in-law and a French motor car. I do not think that I can be accused of xenophobia.

Not only have the French entered reservations; so has the United States of America. I do not want to labour the point because I think that most members of the Standing Committee and most Members of the House are well aware that it was not until the dying hours of his somewhat discredited term of office that President Clinton signed the treaty and left the Senate to ratify the statute. It is clear that the Bush Administration are wholly hostile to ratification.

5.30 pm

Mr. Maude: Does my hon. Friend recollect that President Clinton not only signed the statute at the very last moment, but specifically said when doing so that it was only to preserve America's negotiating position and recommended that his successor should not ratify it?

Mr. Howarth: That is a most telling point and a powerful reason why the House should accept the new clause.

I think that I heard the Foreign Secretary on "Today" earlier this week or last week say that the United States was our closest ally. [Interruption.] I think that he is saying "Hear, hear", so he accepts that. If our closest ally has such reservations about the International Criminal Court, why do the Government want to rush headlong into ratifying the statute, failing to take advantage of the breathing space afforded by article 124?

Mr. Hendrick: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way because I want to conclude.

I remind the House that on 29 November last year, a group of very senior American public figures sent a note to the majority whip in the US House of Representatives expressing strong support for the American Servicemembers' Protection Act 2000, which was introduced to protect the sovereignty of the United States in respect of the International Criminal Court. The letter said:

That letter was signed by a cast of senior people who were involved at the highest level of government in the most recent conflicts in which the United States and the United Kingdom have taken part: Lawrence Eagleburger, former Secretary of State; Caspar Weinberger, former Secretary of Defense; Henry Kissenger, former Secretary of State;

10 May 2001 : Column 345

Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense; George Shultz, former Secretary of State; James Baker, former Secretary of State.

Those men are hugely powerful, and they are protecting their armed forces. We should protect ours. One way in which the Government could do so, which would not undermine the Bill or the Government's position in respect of the International Criminal Court, would be to accept the new clause, thereby allowing us to derogate for seven years and buying ourselves some time while we see how the court develops.

Mr. Corbyn: I shall be brief because we are nearing the end of the debate.

I have a feeling that if the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) had been a Member of this House during the summer of 1945, he would have made exactly the same speech about why we should not ratify the United Nations charter, as, no doubt, he would have about the League of Nations covenant, the International Labour Organisation declaration and any international treaty there ever was.

We seem to be losing sight of the reality that the Bill has come about because of the revulsion of many people around the world at abuses of human rights and the unbridled power of dictatorships. They see the need to bring such dictators to heel if they are no longer to be the victims of the arbitrary power that is often held by military dictators and regimes.

I remember--I am sure that many hon. Members do--the trenchant defence of General Pinochet that was mounted by the hon. Member for Aldershot and some of his friends. They continue to do that but at no stage have they ever appeared to notice that thousands of people died in Chile at the hands of Pinochet and many others. Pinochet could not be brought to court under this process, because it is not retrospective. However, it will ensure that any country that signs up to the treaty will--yes--expose itself to possible prosecutions under it but, in doing so, it will set an example, a standard and a norm. That is why I strongly oppose the new clauses.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) said, if we believe that every other country should sign up to the treaty and possibly put all their institutions before an international court, we should be prepared to do exactly the same. If Argentina, which has signed and ratified the treaty, has not asked for an exemption for its armed forces--and, my God, Argentine armed forces committed many human rights violations at the time of Operation Condor--what have we got to be afraid of? We should sign up to the treaty in its entirety.

Next Section

IndexHome Page