International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Maclennan: Perhaps because I belong to the generation that lived through the last world war and personally recollect some of the incidents of war and its aftermath—such as the Nuremberg trials—I take a different view about current priorities from those expressed by the Conservative Members who have spoken. They are concerned that the ICC might abuse its power, and they think that their uncertainty about that is sufficient to make it wise not to submit to its jurisdiction for seven years. That, however, must be weighed in the balance against the importance of strengthening the world's deterrents against war crimes.

The record of international institutions seems more exemplary than that of the individual nation states that comprise them. My great concern is that the laws of war will be ignored or paid mere lip service by belligerent countries if we do not take the enforcement process forward.

Mr. Blunt: Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the seven-year exemption for the armed forces? Seven years will be a tiny part of the history of an institution that will be built for the future and for the whole time in which the world order remains as it is. Surely it is not unreasonable to want to see how the court develops. The soldiers whom we want to exempt from the ICC will remain subject to the justice of the countries who sign up to and ratify the statute.

Mr. Maclennan: I am, perhaps, less bashful about the British example than Conservative Members. It would be highly desirable for the British Government, between now and the end of the seven-year period, to participate directly in the formulation of the ICC's procedures. We should not hang back to see how other, lesser nations—to use the language implicit in the new clauses—handle such issues. We have influenced the shape of the statute; let us influence the shape of the procedures and show other participating countries that this method of dealing with international outrages enjoys our full support.

We should not invoke the doctrine of unripe time, nor say that this is a suitable system only for other people, for lesser breeds without the law. This is a suitable system for us and for other countries like ours. It is quite wrong to oppose the interests of our troops in the operation of this system.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not think that Conservative Members regard other states as lesser in their commitment to the values underpinned by the statute. I hope that he will accept that our concerns arise from the fact that United Kingdom and French troops are more likely to be called upon and United States troops will undoubtedly be called upon. Many of the other countries' troops will not be called upon, or if they are, only small numbers of them will be involved.

Mr. Maclennan: I do think that Conservative spokespersons have indicated that they regard the other countries that will participate in the ICC as less reliable than us when it comes to implementing the best procedures. They have argued that other people cannot be trusted to operate the statute without political bias and motivation, and that such people will do so not according to the rule of law, but as a result of various pressures. That is what Conservative Members are arguing, which means that they regard other countries as less bound by the rule of law and justice.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): Does the right hon. Gentleman, like me, doubt the argument that has often been put that United States and British troops are more likely to be involved in those activities? If one examines which troops are involved in UN activities, one discovers that the Bangladeshis and the Nigerians are heavily committed. Those forces are not dominated by Britain and the United States--that is not the pattern.

Mr. Maclennan: The hon. Gentleman makes an exceedingly powerful point. It is interesting that he represents Clydebank and Milngavie, which is part of our country that was subjected to outrageous abuses of the laws of war in the second world war. The weight of argument for the rapid implementation of the statute is in the interests of both soldiery and civilians. We do not want to see our soldiers engaged in more international fighting than we can possibly avoid. That is one of the underpinnings that help the arbitrament of violence in the international community in place of war.

I heard two comments, one of which came from the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, which disapprovingly referred to the litigious age in which we live. I wish it were true that the settlement of international disputes were by the law rather than by force, which is the method that has characterised the 20th century. Certainly, it is preferable that such matters, including international crime, should end up in the courts, and not in victor's justice. The victors are not always guiltless. For many long years, the victors in eastern Europe were barbarous Russians who inflicted holocausts scarcely less terrible than those of the Germans, to which the hon. Member for Reigate referred. That was victor's law but the courts would have been preferable.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Harbourgh offered his comments in an entirely pejorative sense, but he spoke with some distaste of a codification of the law on the killing of people. It is true that that adds to the corpus of the laws of war, but it is nothing new. There were laws of war in the middle ages, which were to some extent observed with greater rigour than such laws have been in early modern times. It has been part of mankind's progress to build on the development of the theories of the jurists, the Jesuits, Suarez, Vittorio and Grotius in developing laws of war. What has always been missing is the means of giving effect to the agreed norms.

To ask us to wait for another seven years is to betray a lack of urgency in the face of a problem that is very present. It is not a theoretical problem; scarcely a year goes by without violations of the laws of war.

Mr. Garnier: I fear that I was wasting my time even more than I thought. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks bear no relation to my contribution. I did not suggest that I disapproved of adding war crimes to the corpus of law. The point that I was making, which the right hon. Gentleman has not addressed, is that this court can be effective only if it is backed up by might or power. The jurists in mediaeval times were able to improve the way in which war was conducted because their thoughts were backed up by practical power. We cannot get away from that.

I do not mind a Liberal Democrat insulting me or misconstruing what I have said, but the right hon. Gentleman's comments should have some bearing on what I actually said. I invite him to reconsider his remarks.

Mr. Maclennan: I am happy to reconsider what the hon. and learned Gentleman had to say. If I have misconstrued his remarks, I certainly do not wish to pursue the point. However, I do not resile from the earlier point that I made in answer to his argument about might being essential when international law tries to make itself effective. I do not think that that is necessarily the whole truth. The existence of laws acts as an inhibition on infractions. The possibility that perpetrators of crime may be brought to justice has a bearing on international behaviour. That case is supported by the record of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Justice.

Mrs. Gillan: I, too, shall examine the record carefully to see what the right hon. Gentleman attributed to me in my contribution to the debate. I was expressing concern on behalf of Sir Charles Guthrie and Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, who seemed to feel that we live in an increasingly litigious society. That was reflected in the comments of Admiral Sir Michael Boyce when he gave evidence to the Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman needs to be very careful before he imputes a motive to my hon. and learned Friend or me. It would have been better if he had attended rather more of the Committee's proceedings and heard the thrust of our arguments throughout. I hope that he will carefully consider what he has just attributed as the motive of my intervention on the new clause. He is incorrect.

Mr. Maclennan: I have sat for many hours, and will no doubt sit for many more, without complaint, listening to arguments that are made perfectly in order but not unfamiliarly. Indeed, the arguments have been deployed with such frequency that I think it unlikely that I would have misconstrued them. The hon. Lady, who spoke for nigh on 35 minutes on new clause 1, made few points that she had not made in discussing earlier amendments or at another stage of the Bill's consideration.

There seems to be no reason to believe that the implementation of the Bill and the ratification of the statute will put our troops at risk of a lower standard of justice than that which they would expect from the British courts. There is little evidence to suggest that that anxiety is strongly held in the country's military circles. If there were such evidence, it would have been more comprehensively deployed in our debates.

Reference has been made en passant to Sir Michael Boyce's evidence to the Select Committee. I venture to suggest that his was not a considered contribution to our discussions, and important though his views are, he does not seem to have focused squarely on the issues before this Committee.

6 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): I have the minutes of the exchanges that took place with Admiral Sir Michael Boyce. The question was:

    ``Do you have any other areas that have not emerged from the discussion we have just had where you think it would be right in order to maintain operational effectiveness, in order to maintain the military ethos in this country and the morale of the people serving in the armed forces, that we should provide additional legal protection against some of these hazards?''

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce replied:

    ``I am as confident as I can be at the moment that we are taking what actions we need to in the light of legislative Bills coming forward to have exemptions where appropriate. Three or four years ago we were not well set up.''

He repeats similar assurances later. It is therefore unfair to keep citing Admiral Sir Michael Boyce as though he were opposed to the provisions in the Bill.

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