Mr. Touhig: I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that there is anything further that existed before the Act was brought into force. There were procedures with which our forces were expected to comply under British law. Those procedures remain today. They have not been changed as a consequence of the Act.
Mr. Hoyle: I think that the question is why does it stop at the colonel? Why does it not go to a brigadier? Why not a general and why not a chief of staff? Where does the process end? Does it go right through Government? We understand that the process has reached a colonel, but why does it stop there? Why does it not continue right through to the Prime Minister?
Mr. Touhig: My hon. Friend has reinforced an important point made by Opposition Members. However, I am not tempted to trespass down that path, as an investigation is still under way. The implication of this evening's debate is that no one should reach hasty conclusions on such matters.
The hon. Member for Canterbury appeared to suggest that we carried out a different procedure in our investigations in the Baha Musa case. I would like to reassure him, however, that we have not done anything
14 Jun 2005 : Column 240
differently from the way in which we did things prior to the implementation of the Act. A number of references were made to Trooper Williams. All soldiers understand that they are ultimately accountable for their actions to a court of law, but they can be assured that if they act in good faith and in accordance with the rules of engagement they should have nothing to fear from scrutiny of their conduct. Indeed, Trooper Williams was supported throughout, as are all service personnel facing legal proceedings, by the Ministry of Defence. Defence costs were met by the Department, and his regiment supported him by, for example, appointing a full-time officer for his direct assistance. That demonstrates the care provided for people in the circumstances in which Trooper Williams found himself, and it is the right way in which to tackle such matters. The hon. Gentleman said that the Attorney-General decided to overrule the decision of Trooper Williams's commanding officer. My advice is that senior Army staff were concerned that the legal advice on which the CO acted was flawed. The papers were then passed to the Attorney-General, who referred the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service. The decision to prosecute was made by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The court made it clear that there was not any criticism of the DPP, the Attorney-General or the Army, but senior Army staff were concerned about the legal advice given to the CO at the time.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, particularly as I have not attended the whole debate, and heard only the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). Is not the ethos the crux of the matter? The Minister has spoken a great deal about the International Criminal Court, and the need to prosecute war crimes, atrocities and genocide. However, in this case, we are talking about the prosecution of war when, in good faith and in the heat of battle, people are required to make a split-second decision. Trooper Williams may have been acquitted, but he experienced months of stress and horror. We ask these people to go and do our bidding in war and in times of danger, so we must support them to the hilt. This will lead to a change in the ethos of the armed forces to the extent that we will not be able to expect them to take part in war in the same way.
Mr. Touhig: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but I can only repeat my advice that senior Army staff were concerned about the legal advice given to Trooper Williams's CO. That is how the process started. I admit, however, that that does not detract from the stress, pain and suffering that he and his family experienced in those difficult times and with which we all sympathise. As I said, the Department supported him throughout that period, as we thought that it was right and proper to do so.
I fully understand the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). Like other hon. Members, he mentioned Colonel Mendonca, who will
14 Jun 2005 : Column 241
not be made a scapegoat. A proper investigatory procedure is being carried out. That is the right way in which to conduct these matters. I will not tolerate scapegoating, and I am sure that other hon. Members will not do so either. The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) spoke with considerable authority, given his experience, and he made a valuable contribution to our short debate. That shows the House at its bestpeople can bring their experience to bear on a major issue such as this and enhance the quality of the debate. The hon. Gentleman talked in real terms about the difficulties that may have to be faced, the tense circumstances in which decisions have to be made and the consequences that may arise from those decisions.
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) made a similar contribution, again emphasising the importance of the House having people on both sides who are able to make a useful and important contribution to an issue as complex as this.
In conclusion, I say to the hon. Member for Canterbury that our determination to uphold and comply with international law and to support the
14 Jun 2005 : Column 242
International Criminal Court in that endeavour is matched by our commitment to the rights and well-being of our forces. That has to be uppermost in our minds; it certainly is in mine and, I know, in that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Our forces perform immensely difficult and dangerous duties with distinction in many parts of the world. We ask them to serve, and they serve, and they serve us well.
There is nothing mutually inconsistent in the aims that I have outlined. We and our service personnel have nothing to fear from the International Criminal Court. Only tyrants and others who callously ignore and breach the established rule of international law, and oppress and persecute the vulnerable, should feel its justice. I am confident that the values and standards of our armed forces, as exemplified by the comments made in the debate, the incomparable training that they receive and the quality of our leadership that they have will hold us in good stead, whatever comes.