International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Gillan: I said that they had signed it.

Mr. Battle: With respect, check Hansard. I wrote down the words when they were spoken. It is important to make the distinction between signing and ratifying. Both America and Israel have signed but not yet ratified the statute, and so are not working within its scope.

The hon. Member for Reigate asked me about the difference between sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of article 8.2, and why they were separated. Sub-paragraph (a) is specific to

    ``Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions''

and applies only to

    ``persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention''.

Those could be prisoners of war, the sick and wounded and protected civilians. According to sub-paragraph (b), such crimes are provided for under other conventions, by the Hague regulations and by additional protocols to those conventions; the victims need not necessarily be persons protected under this convention. The hon. Gentleman also asked what ``in particular'' meant. It does not prohibit prosecution of individual acts, but provides guidance to the prosecutors as to where they should concentrate their efforts.

I shall now respond to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside. Under article 53 of the Rome statute, prosecutors deciding whether to carry out an investigation must consider the seriousness of the information before them, and the gravity of the alleged crime. They also have the discretion not to proceed with the prosecution where doing so would not be in the interests of justice.

This is not about setting up a political assembly, it is about a court and the matter of justice under the rule of law. The Security Council can therefore also play a role. If the situation represents a threat to international security or is not in the interests of an on-going dialogue for peace and security—a point that my hon. Friend raised—the Security Council may issue a request to the International Criminal Court to suspend an investigation. For example, that might be appropriate if delicate peace negotiations were taking place. It would be inappropriate to proceed then, and might be better to move forward in other forums to develop a peace process. If the prosecutors decide to initiate an investigation, they must first receive the approval of a pre-trial chamber of judges, which is a safeguard against a politically motivated prosecution.

We are well aware of the Israeli concerns about the provisions in the statute. However, those concerns have been aired and discussed, and in spite of them, Israel signed the statute last December; it knew what it was doing. The Committee is debating UK legislation, so I see no reason not to implement the provisions of the Rome statute, to which Britain has been signed up to for some years. It would make no material difference. The crimes mentioned are already crimes defined under British law.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham asked why the Board of Deputies of British Jews had been left off the list of respondents to the consultation. The report on the responses to the draft legislation stated:

    ``The Government received a total of 45 responses giving comments on the draft Bill. A list of those who responded is set out in Annex A . . . Several other people sent in views on the ICC itself.''

They commented not on the Bill but on the statute, so there was no intention to insult or snub the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Some simply chose to comment on our Bill, and others on the statute. On 22 January, the Department sent a long reply to Mr. Simon Plosker's letter of October. It stated:

    ``The ICC is designed with safeguards in place against the risk of politicisation. It is the policy of the UK Government to see the creation of an independent Court—free from political interference and staffed with highly qualified, highly professional independent staff.''

That is absolutely right, and I hope that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, and the members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, are reassured that we took their concerns seriously. Indeed, the Bill as drafted allows for those concerns. Israel has already signed up to the Rome statute, and we can be assured that it knows what it is doing. It is only right that Israel has signed up, and we want it to ratify, but we do not believe that the amendments are necessary.

Mr. Blunt: It is important, both for Israel and for the United States, that Ministers should not rely on signature of the statute, particularly given Israel's declaration upon signature, which is pretty robust stuff. The declaration states:

    ``At the 1998 Rome conference, Israel expressed its deep disappointment and regret at the insertion into the Statute of formulations tailored to meet the political agenda of certain states. Israel warned that such an unfortunate practice might reflect on the intent to abuse the Statute as a political tool.''

It is surely unlikely, therefore, that the state of Israel is going to ratify the treaty. Of course, given the wretched history of the 20th century, Israel has been a leading proponent of a court of some type.

Mr. Battle: As I have said, the provision was the subject of much negotiation at the Rome conference and during the entire drafting period. I can reassure hon. Members that there is no problem. In a sense, it is up to Israel to sort out its policies in respect of ratifying now. Rather than second-guessing Israel, we should get on and sort out our own ratification. I should point out to the hon. Member for Reigate that Israel's declaration upon signature also states:

    ``Being an active consistent supporter of the concept of an International Criminal Court, and its realization in the form of the Rome Statute, the Government of the State of Israel is proud to thus express its acknowledgement of the importance, and indeed indispensability, of an effective court for the enforcement of the rule of law and the prevention of impunity.''

The relevant details were discussed at great length before the signature. They have been taken into account in the statute, and the purpose outlined in clause 1 simply reflects that. The amendments are therefore superfluous.

Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Chesham and Amersham and for Reigate for their contributions to this debate, and I am also grateful to the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and for Riverside for theirs. The point of Standing Committees, which is sometimes forgotten, is to debate. Whether we agree with particular a contribution is irrelevant; what is important is to participate. On that basis, I am equally grateful to the Minister for his full response to the points that were raised.

I regret to say that Labour Members often titter when reference is made to the sovereign. They doubtless thought that I was talking about the Queen, but in fact I was talking about what is, under our constitutional conventions, the Crown in Parliament, which is represented by the Government and the Prime Minister.

Mr. Battle: I give in.

Mr. Garnier: It is charming to hear the Minister giving in. I hope that he will be giving in both in Parliament and in Leeds over the next few weeks. He is due for a rest, and the Conservatives will be happy to give it to him. [Interruption.] I hope that the Minister will remain serious, because I hope to keep the debate on an intelligent level as it reaches its conclusion.

5 pm

The whole point of my amendments, and of new clause 6, was to invite the Government to explain themselves, and to an extent, they have done so. However, I caution the Minister against the excessive use of hyperbole. Expansive phrases and high-minded desires for the ICC are one thing, but behind the ICC is a clear and unvarnished, but nevertheless legitimate, use of force. Unless we understand that, we understand very little. International jurisdiction is an interesting concept, but it should not be allowed to mislead us. The Committee will be glad to hear that I shall not press my amendments or the new clause to a Division. However, I shall carefully read the Minister's remarks when I have the chance to examine the record. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 37, in page 1, line 10, at end, insert:

    `other than crimes arising out of amendments to Articles 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the ICC Statute'.—[Mr. Blunt.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 11.

Division No. 1]

Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Day, Mr. Stephen
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl

Battle, Mr. John
Browne, Mr. Desmond
Cranston, Mr. Ross
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Gapes, Mr. Mike
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
King, Ms Oona
Lammy, Mr. David
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Worthington, Mr. Tony

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman: We have spent three hours and 37 minutes on the clause—a tour de force around the houses and back again. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham has indicated that she would like a discussion on clause stand part, and has formally indicated that she wants to discuss points raised on Second Reading and in the other place. I am not minded to rehearse Second Reading, nor do I feel that points from the other place need to be recapitulated. If any comments are made, they must be brief and new. If I detect any points being raised that have already been covered in today's lengthy exchanges, I shall bring the debate to an abrupt halt. Furthermore, I shall probably feel compelled to remember this debate in our future proceedings.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan: I feel quite intimidated by your words, Mr. Cook.

The Chairman: Good.

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