Standing Committee D
Thursday 26 April 2001
[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Cook. In the business statement today, the Leader of the House announced that consideration on Report and Third Reading would take place on 9 May. I asked the right hon. Lady a question, pointing out that the Committee was precisely halfway through its consideration of the Bill, having reached the fifth of its 10 sittings, but had reached only the clause stand part debate for clause 2 of an 84-clause Bill. I asked her to consider rescheduling Report and Third Reading to allow us proper consideration of the important issues of principle that still have to be discussed, such as universal jurisdiction and diplomatic immunity. Such rescheduling would allow us also to continue our current discussion about the consequences of the Bill for reconciliation.
The right hon. Lady undertook to report my concerns to the Minister in charge of the Bill. I do not know whether she has had a chance to do that, but I would like to place on the record that it seems clear that we will not be able fully to discuss important issues of principle. I hope that the Government will consider postponing the date of Report and Third Reading to allow consideration of the Bill to continue after 3 May.
The Chairman: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows well that that is not a matter for the Chairman. However, he has succeeded in getting his remarks on the record.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): Further to that point of order, Mr. Cook. I, too, am disappointed, but it is not for me to decide when the Committee reportsI am simply in charge of seeing the Bill through Committee. We had agreed a programme.
It was reported to me that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) complained that we have reached clause 2 only because there have been interventions and lengthy statements from Government Members. That is not quite true. Our remarks are on the record, written down word for word. If anyone would like to count the number of words or measure the number of minutes that Government Members have spent replying to amendments, and compare those numbers with the amount of time spent moving the amendments, that might leave the Opposition with some space to reflect. We are more than happy to debate these topics in any order that the Opposition choose. The time is in their hands. We wait with interest.
Mr. Blunt: Further to that point of order, Mr. Cook
The Chairman: Order. We have had quite enough discussion on that point. We will not succeed in our main task, which is line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill, if we argue about the length of time that we are taking not to do it. Let us make some progress.
Mr. Blunt: On a new point of order, Mr. Cook. The Minister has inadvertently misled the Committee about my remarks and on whether I made a complaint about the conduct of Government Members. I most certainly did not, and I want to make that explicit. There is no complaint on my part about the interventions that I took from other Members. We have had a proper debate and I would not want it to be thought that there was any concern about the conduct of Government Members, which, overall, has been exemplary.
Mr. Battle: Further to that point of order, Mr. Cook. I accept that comment. I was under a misapprehension. I say that in good faith, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments.
The Chairman: We continue in that spirit of friendship with clause 2[Interruption.] Order. I am on my feet and I am addressing the Committee. Let us preserve the good humour, but do so within the rules. We continue with the clause 2 stand part debate.
Request for arrest and surrender
Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question again proposed.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): In the spirit in which you have invited us to continue, Mr. Cook, let me say that on Tuesday the Minister was very good to acknowledge that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate had raised several important issues. He recognises that this is an extremely important Bill.
We are particularly concerned because of the international ramifications for our service men. We are disappointed that the Committee will not have more opportunity to scrutinise the Bill than was laid out in the programme motion. I support the contention advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) in her remarks about clause 2. I am concerned that there is no reference in the statute of Rome to reconciliation.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes)I am sorry to see that he is not in his placereferred to Chile before we adjourned this morning. I challenged his interpretation of events that took place there. For the record, I should like to refer to what has happened in Chile subsequently by quoting the former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei, who said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC published on 10 October 1973:
``People cannot imagine in Europe how ruined Chile under Allende was. They don't know what happened . . . The Marxists, with the knowledge and approval of Salvador Allende, had brought into Chile innumerable arsenals of weapons which they kept in private houses, offices, factories, warehouses. The world doesn't know that the Chilean Marxists''
The Chairman: Order. I am concerned that we might be allowing ourselves to stray into the rights and wrongs of Chilean history. Where opinion is pertinent to truth and reconciliation commissions, I am happy that the Committee should listen to it. However, I do not want to go too far down the road that the hon. Gentleman is exploring. Please be careful.
Mr. Howarth: I appreciate what you are saying, Mr. Cook, but I hope that you will allow me a little latitude to respond to the hon. Member for Ilford, South, because his points were pertinent to a better understanding of why reconciliation is important.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I had some difficulty marshalling my papers during this morning's sitting, but perhaps it would help my hon. Friend to know that one of the 15 truth commissions to which I referred in my earlier argument was the Rettig commissionthe national commission on truth and reconciliation in Chilewhich dealt with 3,428 cases of people who had disappeared or were killed, tortured to death or kidnapped, of which 2,920 were investigated in depth. The commission's work lasted for nine months and covered a period of 16 and a half years. It is important that such commissions are taken into consideration in the light of the effect on that process that may be made possible by future legislation.
Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She has added considerably to my argument.
There was a belief on one side in Chile that the Marxists under Allende were about to engage in a self-inflicted coup. Others, like the hon. Member for Ilford, South, take a different view.
Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): I have been trying to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he saying that, despite the election of President Allende, it was reasonable for a coup to take place that led deaths, murders, mutilations and torture under the ensuing regime, as is well-documented? I cannot understand his argument.
Mr. Howarth rose
The Chairman: Order. The Committee is beginning to do exactly what I was trying to prevent. I do not want to rehearse Chilean history and I ask all Committee members to respect my instruction.
Mr. Howarth: I know, Mr. Cook, that if I answered the hon. Lady, you would rightly chastise me. There is a difference of view, but I can tell the hon. Lady that 147 semi-automatic rifles and 10 semi-automatic carbines were found the day afterwards in the President's house
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to comments on truth and reconciliation commissions, which the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham introduced into the debate. He should deal with those, not with Chilean history. He should not discuss the details that were presented in the 3,400 cases, but the principles involved as they relate to the Bill.
Mr. Howarth: I have no intention of going through the individual cases. I was responding to some of the observations made by the hon. Member for Ilford, South, which were not ruled out of order.
I have, however, made my point. Essentially, there is a difference of view, as there was in Chile. It is not up to us in this country to determine how the peoples of a country that has experienced serious conflict should resolve such matters. It was not up to us to interfere in South Africa with the way in which Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the authorities ran the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was always part of my contention and that made in another place by my noble Friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick that it was not the job of a freelance Spanish magistrate or the Home Secretary to interfere in the reconciliation process in Chile and the case of former President Pinochet. Arguably, the reconciliation process was impeded rather than advanced by what happened on this side of the Atlantic.
There is an important lesson for us to learn. We must allow nations that have been through a difficult civil war or internal conflict scope to reconcile their different factions. I think that we all accept that it will not be possible to impose solutions from outside. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to Dayton, where an attempt was made at reconciliation. In another case, the British Government urged the Government of Sierra Leone to take into their ranks people guilty of heinous crimes whom they had sought to oppose. All in all, my hon. Friend's observations carry great weight, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to our concerns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate told my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, who had referred to Northern Ireland and the question of the IRA and the loyalists, that many of the crimes that the IRA and some of the loyalist groups had committed could be categorised as crimes against humanity as set out in the statute of Rome. Those groups could also be held to be guilty of crimes of genocide. Article 6 states:
It is perfectly clear to all of us that it would easy for an international court to argue that those on either side who had been responsible for such atrocities could be hauled before it. People in this country would greatly resent that. Some of us bitterly resent the fact that the Government gave an amnesty to some of those in the IRA who were responsible for the most horrendous terrorist crimes and who murdered friends of ours. Nevertheless, we accept that some leeway had to be given in a spirit of reconciliation if peace was to be secured in Northern Ireland.