International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Garnier: I did not have an opportunity in the first half hour of the sitting to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cook. I trust that things will go well for us all.

I hope for some clarification from the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham made her case in some detail. Precision is vital, because the Bill introduces the statute of Rome into our domestic legislation, and in so doing extends jurisdiction over our citizens to a foreign body—we have done that before on other occasions. The items referred to in paragraphs (a) to (e) of the amendment demonstrate that there has been some imprecision in language. Will the Minister assure the Committee that the thing that we are ratifying and signing up to is certain?

Our amendment may not be perfectly drafted; that is often the way with Opposition amendments—we have to do the best that we can with what we have got. However, it is important that our citizens, who may or may not become entangled in ICC proceedings, should have some precise understanding of what it is that we are giving away or not giving away. The point is simple, but I hope that the Minister can explain to my hon. Friend and me the nature of the beast that, through the Bill, we will soon get to know.

Mr. Battle: The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham was gracious enough, in introducing her probing amendment, to acknowledge that the amendment was imperfect—I think that she said that something had been lost in the translation. Tiny errors creep in, and that demonstrates the difficulty of building an international institution round an international statute.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the purpose of the Bill. The Rome statute, which was designed to set up the International Criminal Court, is an international agreement resulting from protracted negotiations that took place over years. We have tried to build an institution that aligns our languages and laws. That is not easy, and it is in the nature of international agreements that we cannot get from them everything that we want. We are not renegotiating the Rome statute—we are deciding to join it and ensuring that it is in line with our law.

This is a probing amendment that raises serious questions. It is standard practice for all treaties, once adopted, to be corrected to remove typing, spelling or translation errors. As the hon. Lady mentioned, that is done by means of the proces-verbaux, which are agreed by all the states involved. That verbal process enables them to agree on such minor changes. It is open to the UK or any other state to object to any proposed corrections. Once that process is agreed, the treaty is formally corrected.

Even when our Parliament passes domestic legislation related to international treaties, it is not usual practice to list all the minor changes, corrections and typing errors that those treaties have undergone. It is more important to ensure that the corrected treaty is right and that we agree with it. Otherwise, we would have to amend that domestic legislation every time a spelling error or a typo was found in an Arabic version of the treaty, and that would be absolutely ridiculous. The Rome statute of the ICC is no different from every previous treaty. The Rome statute referred to in clause 1 is the official version, as corrected.

Mrs. Gillan: I was able to obtain a copy of the Rome statute only as of December 1999. Will the Minister tell me whether any corrections have been made since then and, if so, whether they have been incorporated? Also, what happens if objections raised by the UK are not taken into consideration during the process?

Mr. Battle: The hon. Lady raises serious questions and I will do my best to reply. The answer is yes; corrections have been made since the statute. There were errors that needed correction, not least because of the pace of the process. On the last day of the Rome conference, dramatic progress was made in piecing together different parts of the text and errors crept in. That is why there were the many corrections to which the hon. Lady referred.

We must not forget what the treaty will do. It will build a brand new institution that pulls together a range of legal and language traditions. However, all corrections are made with the consent of the participants at Rome. I can give a practical example; the hon. Lady referred to the removal of ``defence'' from paragraph 5 of article 99. We did not object to that change because we believe that it reflects the understanding reached at Rome. Such corrections were brought to the attention of all states, which, in answer to her question, can object to them. In that case and others, they did not. We in the UK are in close contact with UN legal counsel and, indeed, suggested some corrections to improve the language and text. However, she should understand that we are talking not of substantial legal changes but textual errors that need to be typed straight.

It is not the intention of the Committee or of Parliament for the Bill surreptitiously to introduce new crimes to British legislation. That is not its purpose, and I assure the Committee that the Bill already guarantees that it cannot be used as a vehicle to bring in new legislation by the back door. As the Committee will see, clause 1(1) defines an International Criminal Court crime as one

    ``over which the ICC has jurisdiction''

by its statute. The term statute is defined as the ICC statute,

    ``done at Rome on 17th July 1998''.

In other words, the crimes covered by the Bill are only those that appeared in the statute adopted in 1998. They do not include future crimes that could be introduced into the ICC's jurisdiction by amendment of the statute.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The Bill incorporates a substantial chunk of the statute into United Kingdom law. Will the Minister accept that there will be questions of interpretation of some of the language that has been used? What we, as a country, would see as a reasonable act of self-defence, defence of our interests or of an ally or friend, might be seen by others as aggression or a wanton act of criminality.

Mr. Battle: The hon. Gentleman is right. There will be questions of interpretation because that is the purpose of the legal system. However, we must get the legislation right. I emphasise to Opposition Members that there is no intention to sneak in new crimes with the Bill, and that the statute cannot be revised for at least seven years after the ICC is set up. At that point, there could be negotiations for amendment, which could include new crimes, but any amendment to the statute would not affect UK legislation. If we agreed with revisions to the statute, in particular to crimes, and wanted to introduce them into UK law, we would have to introduce primary legislation to amend the Bill. That safeguard is therefore built in. No new crimes could be created under the Bill without the issues coming back to Parliament. I hope that the hon. Lady is clear about that.

Mrs. Gillan: As a point of information, is that the same process that would be entered into for Scottish legislation? What would happen if there were a difference of opinion between the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments?

11 am

Mr. Battle: The hon. Lady made it clear in her opening remarks that we are talking about corrections, not amendments. We are not amending the statute. We are not amending legislation. We are simply talking about typographical errors. For example, something that is written in Arabic might not be quite the same when it is written in English. The English language does not have a word for everything on a par with every other language. We must therefore negotiate the wording and the language to get the text straight. That is what the amendment relates to, and that could not affect our primary legislation.

The hon. Lady mentioned the review conference. The statute will come up for review in seven years after the ICC is set up. In other words, seven years after the 60 states have ratified. At that stage, amendments can be proposed by the state parties. That is a long way down the line. That is precisely why we should be within the first 60 to get there so that we can shape the statute. However, we are not talking about amendments at this stage. We are merely talking about getting the wording right.

I take the hon. Lady's point. As she and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough said, it is difficult in opposition to get amendments right. I served 10 years in opposition, when we had to devise and table amendments. Even with the advice of learned counsel, it is possible to get them wrong. Even with the advice of the highest learned counsel in the land, one can still get the wording wrong. We are talking about corrections at this stage. The hon. Lady found that the wording of the amendment was not quite right, but we have still been prepared to discuss it. The glitches can be eased out to ensure that the substance of the debate is right and that we know exactly what the clear intention is. Amendments are not in question; it is simply a matter of corrections and tidying up the language. Amendments are much later down the line. I do not feel that this amendment is necessary.

Mrs. Gillan: As the Minister sat down, I was trying to intervene on him to ask him to clarify a couple of the points which I raised with him which pertain to the two corrections that I have spelled out. He mentioned one to article 99 but he did not mention the one to article 124. I would be willing to give way if could tell us why paragraph 2 was included. That was not a minor alteration. Has he considered the implications? Was that one of the amendments that was suggested during his dialogue with legal counsel?

Mr. Battle: I personally did not discuss that with UN legal counsel, but our officials did. Again, there was an error in article 124, which was acknowledged by the French and so the amendment makes no substantial difference. Effectively these are minor corrections of language, grammar and typography, and nothing more.

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