International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): That is where they are.

Mrs. Gillan: My hon. and learned Friend suggests that no Liberal Democrat Member is here because they have gone on holiday early, but that is uncharitable to say the least—

Mr. McNulty: It is true.

Mrs. Gillan: The Whip says that that is true, and he would know.

The Scottish Parliament will remain in recess until, I believe, after return the Westminster Parliament returns, although the Scottish Bill must go through a rather elaborate procedure. If I understand it correctly, when the Bill and the necessary accompanying documents have been introduced, several stages follow: stages 1, 2 and 3 procedures, reconsideration of Bills passed, amendments to Bills, and Crown consent. The procedures laid out in the guide to the governance of Scotland show that there may be considerable time between the stages. What is the timetable for the Scottish Bill? I want to know how it will pan out—whether it is subject to a timetable, whether there will be restrictions on its scrutiny in Scotland, and how it will emerge and meld with the Bill's passage through the Westminster Parliament.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will my hon. Friend tell the Committee what would happen if the Scottish Parliament made changes to the Scottish Bill but, because of the Government's steamrolling the Westminster Bill, no changes were made in this place? What would happen in that case—especially if a general election intervenes, the Conservatives win and we decide to drop the proposal?

Mrs. Gillan: I would not presume to say that the next Conservative Government would drop the Bill. We would try to ensure that the Bill was in an acceptable form before it went through Parliament and we would not stint on debate. What happens if the Bill published on 4 April is amended?

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): In view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), will the hon. Lady state categorically, without ambiguity or weasel words, whether the Conservative party is in favour of the ICC? Yes or no? Is it in favour of our being among the first 60 countries to ratify?

Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman rises to the bait rather early in our proceedings. He has been in the Chamber on many occasions when I have spoken on the matter, but if he wants to cast aspersions on my standing, he can. He asks me to make a commitment to be undertaken by the next Conservative Government, but we will let the hon. Gentleman know on 8 June. That is not a no—the hon. Gentleman is trying to be clever but he will not trap me in that fashion. I will not rise to the bait. He knows that I approve the principles behind the ICC. I do not hang my hat on being among the first 60 as assiduously as he does, but his hypocrisy in trying to trap me into saying something—

The Chairman: Order. Such a direct accusation is not permitted in Committee. I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw the word ``hypocrisy''.

Mrs. Gillan: Of course I withdraw the word ``hypocrisy'', Mr. Cook. I do not want to offend the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) but I wanted to make my point that the Bill could have been introduced much earlier in the Session, as I requested many times on the Floor of the House. The Government have introduced the Bill far too late. The hon. Gentleman is laughing, but I know that he agrees with me.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): This is an extremely important Bill and we are entitled to know whether the Conservative party, Her Majesty's Opposition, supports it. The hon. Lady must tell us so, clearly and unambiguously.

Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Lady has not attended as many debates on the matter as I have and I refer her to Hansard. In view of the time we have left, I prefer to speak to the programme motion than to play silly and juvenile cat-and-mouse games about what we do and do not believe. I am trying to make a serious point about dovetailing Scottish and Westminster legislation. I should have thought that the hon. Lady would have been interested in that.

10.15 am

What happens if amendments are made in Scotland that do not marry up with the Westminster Bill? Is the Scottish scrutiny process undermined by the fact that the passage of the Bill through this place might occur more rapidly than that of the Scottish Bill, even though the two are supposed to dovetail? Because of the programming motion, this Bill—which commits the United Kingdom to the process—could be enacted before the Scottish Bill has passed all its stages. If the Scottish Parliament has the free and fair ability to scrutinise the legislation, it will be able to amend it so that it contradicts or conflicts with the Bill.

The question is whether Scotland is merely rubber-stamping what happens in this Parliament. If so, that would undermine the process of devolution. Why has that not been brought forward earlier and why has the timetable motion not been linked to the Scottish process? Would it not have been more sensible for the Scottish process to have taken place in advance of the Westminster process, to make sure that there was no conflict? Will the Minister say how long it will take the Scottish Parliament to examine the 29 clauses and six schedules in the Scottish version of the International Criminal Court Bill. In other words, what co-ordination is there between the Scottish authorities and the Foreign Office on the matter? The Minister's motion seriously affects the timetabling and the way in which we scrutinise the Bill.

I am sure that my hon. Friends will have something to say on the matter and I hope that the Minister will have time to answer their points. The restriction of the Committee timetable works against allowing the Minister to give a decent answer. I have taken only the half the time available.

Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Cook. I would like clarification. The programme motion states that new clauses and new schedules will be considered at the end of consideration in Committee. However, new clause 6 appears for consideration under clause 1. Why is new clause 7, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, not considered alongside new clause 6?

The Chairman: That point of order has already been the subject of debate and we have agreed to discuss it again on Monday 23 April, prior to the next full sitting of the Committee.

Mr. Blunt: Further to that point of order, Mr. Cook. It is important that, once we are a couple of sittings into the Committee, the Programming Sub-Committee on 23 April reschedules the limited time available for issues that the Opposition want to discuss. That would restrict the role of Government members of the Committee, but I am sure that they will make their views known to members of the Programming Sub-Committee. If the programme motion states that new clauses are to be considered at the end of Committee consideration, on what grounds and on what advice did you include new clause 6 for discussion today?

The Chairman: I am surprised that that point is being raised. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is normal practice for new clauses to be taken towards the end of Committee stage. He sat in on the Programming Sub-Committee last night and heard the exchanges that took place. Since then, those discussions have informally been taken further, and the Programming Sub-Committee will meet again on 23 April—[Interruption.] The Clerk, thank heavens, reminds me that selection of amendments is a matter for the Chairman and not for the Committee. I have stated clearly my readiness and willingness to meet on the 23rd—to come back early, in fact—to ensure that the hon. Gentleman's anxieties are addressed.

Mr. Blunt: Mr. Cook, you have explained why new clause 6 appears where it does on the selection list. The discussion that we have had about when new clauses should be considered and the difficulty of squeezing them into the short time available goes to the heart of the discussion about the programme motion and why it is so unacceptable in principle. For Bills such as this one, to which the Opposition agree in principle, our position is to accept the principle by not voting against the Bill on Second Reading but instead voicing concerns later, during detailed scrutiny. However, if the amendments that we desire are not accepted, I understand that Her Majesty's Opposition will vote against the Bill on Third Reading. We made that clear on Second Reading.

The discussion of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill occurred in precisely the same manner. More than 50 clauses of that substantial piece of legislation—similar in size to the International Criminal Court Bill when one takes into account the number of clauses in the Bill and the schedules—were not discussed in Committee. The Committee was left in disorder after an official protest by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). That is an example of how not to conduct programming of a serious issue that deserves proper scrutiny by the House of Commons. That is why, in principle, the conduct of programme motions is wrong.

I do not know whether 10 sittings will be too many, too few or about right, but the Government are stabbing a wet finger in the air. It is not good enough for them to say that the legislation is needed urgently. The Bill would not have been considered if we were having a general election on 3 May, which was the date that had been pencilled into Labour diaries for four years. As we know, the decision to postpone the election was only taken the Friday before last. The Sun was informed in time for its Saturday edition—

Mr. Gapes: On a point of order, Mr. Cook. I seek your advice. As I understand it, a decision was taken and voted on in both Houses to postpone local elections. However, no decision has been taken about general election dates. Is it in order for the Opposition to refer constantly to the timing of the general election when no legislation about it has been passed?

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Prepared 10 April 2001