International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Blunt: The hon. Gentleman betrayed several misunderstandings during that intervention. If the ICC works by partnership and consensus, there will be no problem with how it operates and develops. In my judgment, it is essential that it operates and develops through that approach. However, it must operate to a standard of reasonableness that we as Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom accept. The UK is a major player on the international scene and one of only two permanent members of the Security Council that appear likely to ratify the statute. If the statute does not pass a standard of reasonableness for us, it will not be operating by partnership and consensus; it will be operating in a different way, the potential for which arises from the way in which it has been established—for example, the statute permits a secret ballot for the prosecutor and judges. Those concerns underlie the amendment.

The hon. Gentleman must be clear: consensus means that everyone agrees, but the statute makes it clear that not everyone has to agree. Far from consensus being achieved, it is possible to envisage the will of 12.9 million people being imposed against the wishes of 2 billion. That second figure includes only the signatory countries, and not India and China. We are in a situation in which a set of Governments, by a ratio of 150 to one—in terms of the populations that they represent—could impose their will through the election of personalities who would make the court work in a way that we might find unreasonable.

There is potential for abuse, and to pass the amendment would be to say simply that we have recognised the need to deal with that. If the system is abused and we find ourselves on the wrong end of behaviour by the ICC that, in the judgment of Parliament or a Committee of Parliament, is unreasonable, that Committee would request the Government to begin the process of withdrawal under article 127. I am sure that hon. Members agree that, if the institution were to behave unreasonably, we would not want to be part of it.

11.15 am

Mr. Gapes: I am still not sure whether, despite all the assurances, this is not an argument against ratification. To follow the argument about countries with populations of 1 billion presumably means that, as long as China and India are not signed up, we should not go ahead with the whole thing because it would be undemocratic in global terms. Is the hon. Gentleman proposing that we should hold a referendum among the whole world's population about whether we should go ahead? We live in a world of nation states with sovereign Governments who have equal status in international law. It seems absurd to follow an argument such as his.

Mr. Blunt: Why do we have qualified majority voting in the European Union? Why do the five countries that are permanent members of the Security Council have a veto over its resolutions? It is because when reality and the actual exercise of responsibility start abutting such issues, there must be a balancing weight given to the countries that represent a large part of the world's resources and, usually, large populations.

Mr. Gapes: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that India and China should each have 20 times as much influence in the ICC as the UK?

Mr. Blunt: There is a perfectly respectable argument for that, although I am not suggesting it. However, I do argue that in selecting the people who are going to make the institution work, San Marino, with a population of 23,000, should not carry the same weight as China, which has a population of more than 1 billion. The logic of that should be obvious. The EU has found a way of getting round the problem through qualified majority voting. It is not perfect and does not exactly reflect population size, but it has been agreed to as a working means of balancing the interests of large and small countries.

Mr. Browne: Interesting though the argument about respective population sizes is, they are not the measure against which the amendment should be tested. It should be tested on whether it stands up in principle. An existing court exercises jurisdiction in the geographical area from which the hon. Gentleman chose to take an example: the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia. Its jurisdiction over our subjects, granted to it by a previous Conservative Government, is not complementary, but supersedes. In the unlikely event that the hon. Gentleman's party is returned to government, would it be his intention to move a similar amendment to the provisions that relate to that tribunal, to allow us, when we disagree with the decisions of its prosecutor, to withdraw from it, or subject its decisions to parliamentary scrutiny? If not, his argument is devoid of principle.

Mr. Blunt: I do not know what statutory opportunities there are for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the international tribunal on Yugoslavia.

There is a misunderstanding among some Government Members about what the amendment would do. If we found ourselves in dispute with the ICC and a Committee of Inquiry requested that the Government begin the procedure for withdrawal under article 127, we would still be bound to hand over a British subject to face justice before the ICC because we were bound by the statute's terms. The amendment would not wreck the statute or remove our obligation under the statute to surrender that British subject, whoever he might be—a a commander of British forces overseas, the Secretary of State for Defence or the Prime Minister .

All the amendment says is that in one year's time the Government could act on the recommendation of a Joint Committee of Parliament—and we know how often the Government act on the recommendations of Joint Select Committees of the House. Whether the Government exercise their prerogative and decide to initiate the process of withdrawal by giving notice under article 127 is another question, but we would still be bound by the terms of the statute in respect of the crime that was being investigated by the ICC.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun will see that that is recognised in paragraph (b) of the amendment, which states that the Secretary of State

    ``shall transmit the request and documents accompanying it to an appropriate judicial officer.''

The amendment therefore simply asks the Home Secretary to say to the ICC, ``You explore under article 19 the opportunity to exercise British jurisdiction and if you lose, Parliament will set up a Joint Committee of Inquiry of both Houses of Parliament to decide why that has happened. Having lost, you must hand that British subject over.'' We would remain bound by the ICC. The amendment is quite specific; it is not a wrecking amendment, but a flag to say that if things go wrong a test of reasonableness will be conducted by a Joint Committee of Inquiry.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): My hon. Friend should be congratulated on daring to initiate a real debate. It is a strange experience for Government Members and rarely happens in the House these days.

The Minister said that other countries might follow the example of Britain if my hon. Friend's amendment were accepted, and that that would wreck the practical workings of the ICC. However, as well as allowing debate, my hon. Friend is introducing a dose of reality that goes beyond the pure moral question. Countries such as France have introduced such amendments and sought exemption for their forces to provide the sort of protection that my hon. Friend is asking the Committee to consider for our forces.

Mr. Blunt: That is true, but in the French case protection is only for seven years because that is what is allowed under the Rome statute. I understand that amendments will be tabled that would give our armed forces the protection that the French have given to theirs, but it would last for only seven years. If it is successful, we hope that the ICC will be for ever.

The problem is that China and India have not signed the treaty; given the way in which the Americans are conducting the debate, there is not a cat in hell's chance of the Senate ratifying it; and given the nature of Russia's operations in Chechnya, I would be surprised if it came anywhere near to ratifying it. Four of the largest and most important countries in the world, representing almost half the world's population, will not be part of the treaty. It is a tragedy for the ICC that half the world's population will not be bound by their Governments to that immensely important institution.

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) said that this was the most important Bill that he had come across in 35 years in the House of Commons, and we can see the attention that he is giving to the Committee's proceedings. It is disgraceful that there are no Liberal Democrat Members here to debate this important Bill.

Mrs. Gillan: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not unwell.

Mr. Blunt: So do I, but I do not think that he is, because I saw him yesterday—you will recall, Mr. Cook, that we both dined in the same place as him yesterday. If the right hon. Gentleman is unwell, where is the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten)?

The point at issue is that the reasons why those large countries are unlikely to be parties to the treaty are the reasons why we—as a big country, with 60 million people, and as a permanent member of the Security Council—need to flag up our concern in the way that my amendment proposes.

Mr. Worthington: The amendment says nothing about big or small countries. I am concerned with what is there, and what is there is the proposition that, if there is some disagreement with the ICC, the matter should go to a Joint Committee of both Houses. What is the procedure to be? Would the independent prosecutor lead for the prosecution and the Government for the defence of, for example, a British commander accused of an atrocity? How would the members of the Joint Committee be chosen? Would there be the usual Government majority?

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 24 April 2001