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I was reminded of the first of my final two points when I went the other day to a Sierra Leone fellowship event at the now full Methodist church in Bermondsey.
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Why is it full? It is because the congregation, which was relatively depleted 10 or 15 years ago, has huge numbers of west Africans, who are now in this country and replenishing our churches and many of our mosques. They are hugely committed to citizenship and participation. If people ever want role models of family life, community participation and engagement, they should look at the Sierra Leonean community both at home and here. However, in that support for Sierra Leone, the prayers for the country and the celebration of its beautiful country and prospects, there was the continuing wish and prayer that there should be continuing support beyond the trial and whatever happens to Charles Taylor.

The commitment that we made was not one that should finish even at the end of the criminal process. It is great that there is that process—it is right—but it is not the end. That is not a plea for never-ending funds from the United Kingdom, although it is a plea for continuing support. It is a plea that the Commonwealth do its bit, that the neighbouring richer states in west Africa do their bit and that we continue to ensure that that country can put that terrible conclusion behind it.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that UN force representatives—the international military advisory and training team, or IMATT forces—have agreed and have support to remain in the country until 2015, to address the very concerns that he has expressed and to send a very loud signal to individuals in the surrounding countryside that the country is safe and protected.

Simon Hughes: I do know that, and that is a very strong message of, “We will recognise your independence and support it, but we will continue to be an ally, a supporter and a practical aid in all sorts of ways for as long as you need and want it.” My judgment is that the country will continue to want it for a long time.

My last point is that the Bill is about a change that will allow us in this country to take another bit of international responsibility by imprisoning Charles Taylor if he is convicted. That is absolutely right and it is a very welcome initiative, but I take the view that, for people who are convicted of the sort of crimes that are on the indictment, there can be no conclusion other than that they serve their natural life in prison. No other message is acceptable. Heads of State, whether they get there by democratic election or by other means—in this case, other means were used—have a higher responsibility than anyone else to set a good example. Therefore, if they are responsible indirectly for the death, injury and rape of so many people by those under their control, they must pay the price.

In a world where capital punishment is not generally regarded as an acceptable price to pay any more, the sentence should be life imprisonment, which means life imprisonment. Then, bluntly, the difficult question of asylum and what happens on release does not arise. That has a cost implication for the United Kingdom, as set out in the papers connected with the Bill, but if that is the price that we must pay, not just as our contribution to Sierra Leone but to send the message to the international community that the international rule of law will be followed by heads of state and that they will pay the price if they do not follow it, it is a price that I hope every taxpayer will think is worth paying.

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3.33 pm

Dr. Howells: With the leave of the House, I should very much like to thank all those hon. Members who have taken part in Second Reading. We have been privileged to have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) and the hon. Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) testimonies and analyses that are formed only from great and committed experience and sustained interest, and we are the richer for that.

I welcome the strong support expressed for the substance of the Bill and, more importantly, for the commitment both to international justice and Sierra Leone that the Bill represents. I shall try my best to address the points that hon. Members have made.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), whose contribution I welcome very much, asked how much this would cost. That point was also raised by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. I can confirm that if Taylor were convicted by the Special Court and imprisoned in the United Kingdom, the annual cost to the Prison Service would be the same as the annual cost of holding one prisoner in the high security estate, which in 2005-06 was £43,904. If this individual is imprisoned in Britain and held for a very long time—for his lifetime—the bill will be large, but I agree with the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey that it is a price worth paying.

We would meet the cost—the hon. Member for Cotswold asked a question about this—because that is in line with established policy for commitments arising from sentence enforcement agreements with international criminal tribunals. It is preferable for the United Kingdom to meet the costs associated with prisoners inside the United Kingdom system—they are under our control—rather than agreeing to take on a more general, and possibly greater, financial commitment to contribute to the costs of those imprisoned in other states who are not under our control. The cost would be borne by the Home Office; the Foreign Office does not possess such sums. Of course, I cannot speculate about the conviction—nor would the hon. Gentleman want me to—or the length of the sentence. That is strictly a matter for the court.

The hon. Member for Cotswold and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) asked about the funding of the defence costs. Clearly, it is for the court to decide how to allocate its resources. The hon. Member for Cheadle mentioned that the United Kingdom has already allocated £2 million to the court and the court will have to decide how to allocate that. I want to relate these points to the important observation made by the hon. Member for Banbury. I will come to that a little later, when I talk about where the money should come from. It is an important matter.

I fully expect former President Taylor to receive a fair trial. The Special Court for Sierra Leone has been established in accordance with international norms as they relate to all aspects of trial proceedings. I know that Lord Avebury expressed some reservations, but I do not think that they were about whether Taylor would get a fair trial. When Lord Avebury spoke in another place, he was worried about the remoteness of the trial. The hon. Member for Cotswold asked about
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complaints from Taylor and his defence team about inadequate resources. This may sound brutal, but I am merely reflecting what the hon. Member for Banbury said: the funding for Taylor’s defence is a matter for Taylor, his lawyers and the court. It is of course essential that the defence is adequately resourced to ensure that Taylor is well represented and that the trial is fair and seen to be fair. Ultimately, those are decisions for the court. The United Kingdom is absolutely committed to ensuring that overall the court has the resources to carry out its vital work in accordance with accepted international norms.

As I have said, I cannot predict with any accuracy how long the trial will last and therefore what the ultimate cost will be. That depends on the approach adopted by the prosecution, by Taylor’s defence and by the judges. I understand that, for planning purposes, the court’s completion strategy has projected that the trial of the former President could last 18 months.

The hon. Member for Cotswold and the hon. Member for Cheadle asked an important question about asylum applications subsequent to any release of former President Taylor. Clearly any decision would be made in the light of the circumstances at the time, but if Taylor were convicted by the Special Court, served a sentence in the United Kingdom and was then released, I expect that he would leave the United Kingdom or face removal. Under current immigration law it is open to the Home Secretary to order the deportation of any non-British citizen whose removal from the United Kingdom is deemed to be conducive to the public good. Any asylum claim would be considered in accordance with the refugee convention, which contains provisions to refuse asylum to those involved in genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

I want to clarify the position. The hon. Member for Cotswold is on to something. Where a convicted criminal is transferred to the UK to serve a sentence, it is Home Office policy to refuse that individual leave to enter, but to grant temporary admission for the duration of the sentence. That ensures that residency rights and benefits do not accrue to the individual as a result of imprisonment in the UK. That point needs making.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby gave us, as has been acknowledged throughout the House, a valuable and vivid account of the hell that was Freetown and Waterloo in Sierra Leone. Her contribution made us feel more determined than ever, as the hon. Member for Banbury put it, to send out a clear, unambiguous message that there will be no impunity and no escape for those dreadful war criminals. She also gave us a description of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and its limited facilities which I found invaluable in assessing the wisdom or otherwise of holding a trial of someone as central as Charles Taylor has been to the appalling atrocities that we heard about.

My hon. Friend reminded us not only of the vileness of the crimes that were committed, but of the danger that Taylor continues to present to the people of Sierra Leone, Liberia and that part of Africa, and of the vulnerability of the facilities in that area. We could not have got that from anyone else, and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for telling us about it.

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My hon. Friend asked me where Taylor should be held. She can try to second-guess, but I will not. We must not get ahead of ourselves. There is a presumption of innocence. The trial has yet to be held. Conditions and location of detention will be purely hypothetical until we need to make those decisions. We will not speculate on that until the decisions are made.

The hon. Member for Cheadle asked about the Cassese report. I remind him that Judge Cassese came in at our instigation and our representation. The UK was represented on the court’s management team in New York that commissioned the report by Judge Cassese, the independent expert. We welcome the report and its recommendations. The management committee is supervising the implementation of the recommendations in consultation with the court. As the hon. Member for Banbury made clear, the report rightly draws attention to the need for long-term financial security for the court. The recent United Kingdom contribution of £2 million is another step forward. We are pressing management committee partners and other states to make further contributions. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the present management committee partners include, but not exclusively, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Dutch, Canada, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs. We are pressing hard to ensure that adequate funding comes forward.

I was asked by a number of Members about what happens when the Special Court winds up. In the event that the court has ceased to exist in its current form owing to the completion of its trial load, judicial responsibility will pass to a designated successor body. Discussion has already taken place about an international successor body to take on the residual functions of the Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone tribunals once their work is mostly complete. I shall come back to that to deal specifically with what the hon. Member for Banbury called the problem of ad hocery. That is very difficult for a Welshman to say.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Cheadle whether the trial would be too remote from ordinary Sierra Leoneans. We thought long and hard about that. It is essential that, despite the physical distance, the Special Court’s proceedings in The Hague are accessible and relevant to the people of Sierra Leone. After all, it is in their name that justice is being done.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: As a matter of interest, I am sure that my hon. Friend would like to know that the proceedings in the Special Court are downloaded on to the web every day. There are cafés throughout Freetown and the rest of the country where people can go to see what is happening.

Dr. Howells: That saves me reading out a paragraph of my briefing. It is an important point.

I am sure that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey will welcome the fact that the Special Court has an outreach and education programme, which is recognised as a model from which other international criminal tribunals can learn. As well as our support for the court’s outreach programme, the United Kingdom is contributing £160,000 to a major BBC World Service Trust project that feeds the outlets to which my hon.
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Friend the Member for Crosby has referred, and that develops, deploys and supports a team of six Liberians and Sierra Leonean journalists to cover the court proceedings from The Hague. I know that hon. Members will welcome that.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Banbury for mentioning the curse of the diamond trade. He knows this, but Sierra Leone has been working hard to achieve Kimberley process certification. It remains a fragile region and the UK is working hard with Sierra Leone to ensure that progress is maintained, including in preventing conflict diamonds from entering Sierra Leone from Côte d’Ivoire.

As I said, the hon. Gentleman drew our attention to the curse of ad hocery. He is right that we have to get the structure and system of international law properly organised and funded. The international community must tackle that project with much greater urgency and determination than it has shown until now. You would not, Madam Deputy Speaker, allow me to stray from the content of the Bill, but that should be one of the centrepieces of the reform of the secretariat and of the operation of the United Nations. The lack of reform has been nothing less than a scandal. So often one wonders why countries that seem to be the ones that would benefit most from that reform are those which oppose it. I think that it has everything to do with corruption and with the disgraceful behaviour that we have seen in the past from the leaders of those countries.

The United Kingdom Government, with the support of the House, have argued long and hard for much greater reform of the United Nations, of its secretariat and indeed of the priority that it gives to such issues. As the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey said, international law is much the poorer if it does not have a chapter that is effective, robust and able to try international criminals—not in an ad hoc way but in an organised way. I could not agree more. I have heard the message of the hon. Member for Banbury and I will try my best to ensure that the United Nations secretariat hears it, too.

Simon Hughes: I completely agree with the Minister’s strong statements about the need for the United Nations to put a proper permanent structure in place. Not just countries such as Sierra Leone, but Liberia, which has had a fantastic transformation and has elected the first African woman President, need the security of knowing that, if anyone tried to take them back to a military regime and a system with no democracy, there would be somewhere where they would have to pay the price.

Dr. Howells: Absolutely; that is an important point. In fact, the hon. Gentleman mentioned, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, the hope that Sierra Leone’s neighbours would help with the vital tasks of building capacity in governance. That is very important.

If the forthcoming elections in July do not succeed, Sierra Leone faces great problems. We view credible elections as crucial in consolidating post-conflict peace and stability. The United Kingdom has committed £4 million to the UN Development Programme fund, which finances the national election commission. In addition, the UK is implementing a £2.5 million
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programme of electoral support that will, among other things, strengthen the capacity of national and local media to cover the elections. That is very important, too. We are supporting election monitoring, which must be in place for those elections.

I cannot comment on the plea by the hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey and for Banbury that a life sentence should mean a life sentence. We cannot get ahead of ourselves. This must be seen to be a proper and fair trial, and it is up to the court to make those decisions. I know what my own preferences are, but I will not air them here.

As we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, it is not sufficient for us to speak of our support for international justice—we must act in support of it. That is what the Bill does, and I strongly commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill immediately considered in Committee, pursuant to Order [this day].

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]

Clause 1

The Special Court for Sierra Leone

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

3.52 pm

Dr. Howells: Clause 1 inserts a new section into the International Criminal Court Act 2001 to confer a power to make provision by Order in Council in relation to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The provision that may be made corresponds to that made in section 77(3) of the 2001 Act, which relates to the enforcement of sentences of imprisonment. The power in the clause will extend only to England and Wales. That is not because of any reluctance on the part of the Scottish Administration, but because we do not judge it necessary. Because it will extend only to England and Wales, and because some of the provisions of the 2001 Act mentioned in section 77(3) extend to other parts of the UK, it is made clear that an order can only make provisions corresponding to the 2001 Act provisions in so far as they apply to England and Wales. Clause 2 specifies that the Bill extends to England and Wales only.

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