1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.
2. Proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order.
The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Government to ratify the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. The Bill was discussed in another place before it came to this House for debate in Committee. That debate was excellent, and the Bill is in good shape.
In Committee, we discussed 58 of the amendments tabled by the Opposition, and only six were not debated. Our considerations gave rise to substantial and high-quality debate.
Some of the matters tabled for consideration this afternoon have been discussed at all stages of the Bill so far. However, I am confident that we can deal with them in the time allowed, and that we can continue to work constructively on the details of the Bill. I am pleased that we are discussing it today, and I hope that we can make further good progress in the time remaining.
The motion is not merely a result of the fact that we are caught up in the timetable dictated by the Dissolution of Parliament. The Bill has to go through Parliament now so that Britain can be one of the first 60 states to ratify the Rome statute. We have been involved in shaping that statute from the outset, a process that has taken years, and our officials worked hard on its original provisions. We want to sign up early so that we can remain in a position to shape the International Criminal Court.
Finally, much interest in the Bill has been expressed by non-governmental organisations such as the International Red Cross, and they have said that they want the Bill to go ahead. There has been almost universal support--including among Opposition Members--for the principles of the Bill, although I understand that some Opposition Back-Bench Members are still not comfortable with the position adopted by their Front-Bench colleagues.
My point is that NGOs and other bodies outside the House with an interest in the matter have been assiduous in making representations. We have taken those representations seriously, and I hope that those bodies feel that we have taken many of their considerations on board.
I must inform the Minister that Conservative Front-Bench Members do not sort out our Back-Bench colleagues, but allow them to speak their minds as and when they wish. Not for one minute would I seek to impose my views on a piece of legislation, or those of other Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, on independent-minded and responsible Back Benchers. The Minister may think that we act in the same way as the Labour party so obviously does with regard to its members, but I must disabuse him.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, and for her typical generosity of spirit. Following her guidance, I hope that I shall be able to exercise a small degree of independence.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the Minister's apparent contention that, when a body called an NGO expresses a view about a matter, that legitimises an amendment to legislation in this House? Members of Parliament are here to make our own judgment about what is right and what is wrong. We should take account of what NGOs say, but those organisation should not by any means have the first or last word on a matter.
My right hon. Friend is right. Non- governmental organisations play an important role in making representations, and we should listen to them carefully. Where we find merit in the points that they put forward, we should pursue them.
Indeed, it was a great shame that the Government did not listen more carefully to some of the representations made to them. We were forced to table amendments to the Bill in Committee so that matters proposed by well meaning and interested parties could be discussed. It was a great shame that the Minister could not persuade the Government to take into consideration the views of the much vaunted NGOs on which he seeks to rely.
I am most disappointed that, on what is in effect the final day of this Parliament, the House should be faced with a programme motion on this Bill. The Minister moved a programme motion in the House on
My hon. and learned Friend is right. The Minister is well meaning, but I am afraid that he gets forced into moving in certain directions. This motion is a case in point. It is reprehensible to timetable the Bill at this stage, and it means that he has gone back on his original promise.
I am disappointed with the motion for several reasons. As the Minister knows, I disapprove in principle of such motions, and of the way in which they have been used during this Parliament. I shall return to that matter later.
I am especially disappointed because of what the Minister said in his opening remarks on the first day of our Committee deliberations. He said:
"The Bill is sizeable, legally complex and technical. Its purpose, as was made clear in the excellent Second Reading debate, is to enable Britain to sign up properly to the Rome statute on the International Criminal Court."--[Official Report, Standing Committee D,
The Bill is extremely complex and technical, and requires detailed scrutiny. Consideration in Committee lasted for 25 hours--less the time spent finding a Chairman for one of our sittings--and that allowed us to touch on some of the topics. However, we were not able to touch on all the proposals that might have improved the Bill.
The Bill was far from perfect, despite a very rapid scrutiny process in another place, and Government amendments had to be tabled. Even after a so-called consultation process, the Bill remained imperfect. Today's programme motion shows how the Government have treated the Bill with disrespect and disregard.
It is worth reminding the House that the Opposition said that four issues should be debated in Committee--the seven-year opt-out, discretion over warrants, command responsibility and declarations on ratification. Only one of those items was not discussed.
In Committee, our discussion covered subjects as diverse as the European Court of Human Rights, the aggressive situation developing between China and Taiwan, the Lockerbie trial, Diego Garcia, NATO's action in Kosovo, no-fly zones in Iraq, corruption at the Olympics, the politicisation of the ICC, the means of electing ICC personnel, Israel, the Falklands dispute, parliamentary scrutiny of treaties, the Pinochet question, peace talks and face-to-face diplomacy, Angola, nuclear weapons and the history of the law of war.
I should have hoped that that variety of topics might be seen as offering a sufficient range of debate in Committee, but we accept that some matters remain that the Opposition want to raise.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that the whole point of this stage of consideration of a Bill is to allow those who were not privileged to serve on the Standing Committee to contribute to the debate and table amendments, and that to quote what happened in Committee is an utter irrelevance at this stage?
In his catalogue of matters discussed in Committee, the Minister did not mention the hobby horse that I exercised quite frequently. I refer to the way in which Parliament is wholly incapable, under our constitutional arrangements, of amending treaties or gaining any legislative purchase on a treaty that is made by the Government, as the Executive. Other right hon. and hon. Members may not realise that the exercise that we went through in Committee was largely Ruritanian, in that we could achieve very little in persuading the Government that what they may have done in signing up to the treaty was not perfect.
Will Mrs. Gillan draw to the attention of the House the huge constitutional implications involved in passing the Bill today? We are handing over to an extra-territorial body--not the United Nations or the European Union, but a court--constitutional powers that properly belong to this Chamber.
My hon. and learned Friend has made valid points that have been repeated at several stages during the Committee's proceedings, and I feel sure that when he moves amendments in his own right from the Front Bench, he will add to them. He is right. We are putting on to the statute book our agreement to a treaty. From debates in Committee, it seems to be a pick-and-mix affair. The Government could pick and choose bits from the treaty that they wanted to include in the legislation and disregard other parts. Those matters deserve a great deal of scrutiny. In considering something that is so long term, with such vast constitutional implications, we owe it to the electorate to do our job properly by scrutinising the Bill and making sure that we have examined everything in detail.
Mr. Garnier made a profound point. Does Mrs. Gillan agree that its significance is heightened by our knowledge that under the Standing Orders of this House, there is a prohibition on the tabling of oral questions that seek Ministers' exegesis of treaty articles? Does that not underline how crucial it is to have adequate time this afternoon for proper consideration, for once this afternoon's opportunity has passed, there might be no other?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It adds weight to the discussions on the programming motion and backs up our objections.
Some Labour Members have said that our attitude to the Bill means that we are opposed to the International Criminal Court. We are no such thing. Conservative Front-Bench Members have consistently said that they support the principles behind the Bill, and who would not? However, we would be failing in our duty if we did not scrutinise the Bill properly. I think that, in all honesty, the Minister agrees with me on that fundamental point.
There is not much time on this programme motion, and I know that some of my colleagues wish to speak. I would like to take up some of the points that the Minister made in moving the programming motion. The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity later.
Some of the Minister's arguments about the programming of this stage of the Bill are utter rubbish. He says that he wants Britain to be among the first 60 countries to sign up to the statute, so it is desperately important to get the Bill on to the statute book now. If it was so desperately important, why did nothing happen after the Foreign Secretary--who is not in his place--said on
Will the hon. Lady acknowledge that we allowed, from the outset, a long period of consultation so that all parties could give their views on the Bill?
The Minister must have a selective memory. The consultation process on the Bill took place largely during the recess. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary complaining about the short time available. The Government suddenly woke up to the fact that they had done nothing about this, and that it was one of their do-gooding poses.
I am sorry if I am stepping outside the bounds of the programming motion, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the Minister raised it on an intervention, and I think it right to put the House straight on the consultation process if he is claiming that it was a contributory factor in cutting short the scrutiny of the Bill at this stage. Despite repeated calls from this side of the House for the legislation to be introduced in short order, nothing happened. There was complete inaction.
The motion does not surprise me. It fits into the Government's pattern of falling back on what used to be the guillotine and is now the programming process. At this stage of the Parliament, it is worth recalling that in this Session, 22 Bills have been programmed in this House. Only four have not been programmed--three consolidated fund measures, which go through on one day, and a capital allowances measure. The Government are willing to continue to subscribe to the stifling of debate on important matters such as the scrutiny of the Bill without caring a fig. The Minister shakes his head, but he does not care a fig.
Because Conservative Front-Bench Members, who have spoken on this matter consistently over the past two or three years, have asked for legislation to be introduced, there have been plenty of opportunities for the Minister to discuss it with us and negotiate its passage. Yet the Government brought the Bill forward at the eleventh hour, when they knew full well that they would be calling a general election. It was foot and mouth disease that diverted the date of the election. The Government chose to bring the Bill forward in the House of Lords, with the intention that it would receive no scrutiny whatever in this House. It is only by virtue of the great disaster that has befallen our farming industry that the Bill was able to have a Committee stage. The Government's disregard for the legislation is reprehensible.
The Minister said that Britain needs to be among the first 60 to ratify the statute. This year, only two countries have done so--Andorra and Argentina. One of the reasons for guillotining proceedings on the Bill may be so that we can be among the top 60, but there are still 30 countries to go. Today, I received a read-out showing the rate at which countries are ratifying the treaty: it is not with great rapidity. The Minister cannot, therefore, deploy that argument in his favour at this stage.
We need an International Criminal Court for the same reason that I have to go to Scotland yard in half an hour to discuss bringing Iraqi war criminals to justice--because no such court is in being. The faster that we can set up the court, the better it will be for the sufferers of torture, of crimes against humanity, of genocide and so on. That is why I urge the hon. Lady to give the Bill full speed.
The hon. Lady is well known for her good work and I hope that her meeting goes well. However, the absence of an International Criminal Court has not prevented criminals from being brought to justice. There were tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The court will be a vehicle whereby people can be brought to justice. Let us face the facts, however: the hon. Lady knows that, given the programme motion and the Government's railroading attitude, of course the measure will be passed. I should like an International Criminal Court--I make no bones about that--but I do not see why I should roll over and accept the Government's imperfect proposals which do not offer the protections needed for our citizens, especially our armed services personnel.
There is no point in introducing half measures. Once a measure is on the statute book, it is in the statute book, so we have a duty to work on the proposals, in the House, in a timely and proper fashion--not in a rushed way, at the fag end of a Parliament. I hope that the Government are swept from power at the election, that we return to office and can consider the measure properly. We will bring common sense to bear on it.
Other hon. Members want to speak. I willingly put on record the fact that the programme motion is disgraceful. The Government have constantly eroded democracy and this measure is a flagship for that erosion. The Bill should have been negotiated between the Front Benches and should have been discussed during the body of a Parliament--not slipped in, slyly, at the end. We shall vote against the motion as a protest.
Normally, I am not keen on programme motions; Parliament ought to have the opportunity to discuss legislation in detail. However, it must be obvious, even to Opposition Members, that Parliament is about to be dissolved and that an election is coming--perhaps they have not heard about that--so if the Bill is to become law, it has to go through today. The matter is as simple as that: therefore, there is to be a programme motion.
I am one of the Labour Back Benchers who has occasionally been forced to raise differences of opinion with Front-Bench Members--Mr. McNulty is laughing--[Hon. Members: "No, he is not!"] Perhaps he is taking notes--no doubt for future commendation--. I have tabled amendments, but I am intrigued by Mr. Garnier. It is ground-breaking, it is mind-blowing--it is galactic. He seems to be saying that it is time to bring the royal prerogative under parliamentary scrutiny. If that is so, I am delighted and--given the absence, tragically, of Mr. Benn in the next Parliament--if the hon. and learned Gentleman is re-elected, he and I can no doubt promote a Bill to bring the royal prerogative under parliamentary scrutiny.
I dare say that the hon. Gentleman and I will not often agree. In Standing Committee, I taxed the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr. Battle with Mr. Corbyn addresses and mentioned Mr. Benn. It is outrageous that Parliament should have no purchase whatever on the treaty-making prerogative of the Government. Earlier in the debate, Labour Members tittered when I used the word "sovereign"; they thought that I was talking about the Queen, but I was talking about this Government. It is essential that a Parliament dominated by the Executive, thanks to their supine majority, should not be allowed to make treaties on behalf of the public without Members of the House of Commons having some say in the matter. At least on this occasion, I am glad to be in some agreement with the hon. Member for Islington, North.
The problem with the programme motion is that it does not allow sufficient time for the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and me to table motions to bring the royal prerogative under parliamentary scrutiny. Had there been sufficient time, we could no doubt have raised that issue.
The important point is that if a Government--good, bad or indifferent--sign international treaties, a Parliament should have the right to deal with those treaties in detail. We can deal only with consequential legislation, not the substance of the treaties. For an accountable Parliament and for accountable democracy, that issue must be revisited in future Parliaments. That is most important.
If the Bill is passed today, we shall be among the first 60 countries to ratify the treaty. That will mean that the court can be established and begin work. I hope that we are among those countries and that the court does start working. I look forward to the Minister's comments, either in response to this short debate or later in the Bill's proceedings. I hope that there will be a process whereby we can review the operation of the court, the appointment of its judges--
Some of the proposals to be debated under the motion relate to the wish--in some cases unstated, although it is more overt in others--that the ICC should apply to everyone except us. The principle of a treaty is that a degree of sovereignty is ceded to another body. I am, therefore, concerned that some of the amendments would increase the discretion available to Ministers, either in this country or elsewhere, as to whether to proceed with cases. I wish that there was sufficient time to debate my view: there should be much less discretion, or none whatever. Surely, that is the principle of universal jurisdiction that lies behind the measure.
We have only a short time to consider eight or nine groups of amendments. I hope that we have time to discuss all of them, but above all, I hope that the measure is passed. It will deal with the difficulties that many of us faced while trying to secure justice in an international tribunal for victims in places where was no special process. There was such a process for Nazi Germany; there is one for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia. However, there was no special process for Chile and Cambodia and in many, many cases throughout the world.
However serious we are about eliminating the main perpetrators of murder, human rights abuses and terrorism against whole civilian populations, we must acknowledge that the passage of the Bill will not solve all those problems. However, at least it is a step forward and offers a forum in which some of the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses can be brought to justice. I hope that we achieve that today.
The position of programme motions in this Parliament has advanced rapidly. I approve of this one. In the light of the imminent election, it is certainly necessary to give effect to the clear will of Parliament--as expressed from the Front Benches--that there should be an International Criminal Court.
I am glad that the debate has allowed the instructive exchange between Mr. Garnier and Mr. Corbyn on the prerogative power. May I please sign up to their club? I wholly endorse what they said and wish only that I could pursue the matter in this place in future. It is entirely desirable that the House should be more involved in the process of making treaties, which have such a significant impact on our country, and there is, I hope, a growing consensus, but that remains to be seen.
The motion is entirely sensible. It allows reconsideration by all Members of the House of many matters, most of which have already been considered and, I believe, rather well debated at some length in Committee. The Committee was also programmed, and that was done with a degree of judgment as to what was required. The Minister was entirely reasonable in drawing attention to the scope of the debates that we had already had in Committee, and to the fact that very little was not considered in Committee that Members would have wished to consider.
My party has no objection of principle to the programming of debate. I was a member of the Hansard Society committee, which was chaired by the late Lord Rippon of Hexham, that deliberated on reform of the legislative process. I believe that programming allows a more complete and orderly discussion of issues, which safeguards the interests of Back Benchers, provided that programmes take full account of the nature of the discussions and of the variety of matters that it might be important to consider during the later stages of the Bill.
The only objection that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have to programming is that, as it has been carried out during this Parliament, it has tended to be laid down too early in the legislative process, and not by the Standing Committee following the Second Reading debate, which would be the right time to make such determinations. I hope that the next Parliament will return to that issue, so that the concerns of the hon. Member for Islington, North and others about programming can be taken into account. If, for whatever reason, the Standing Committee cannot reach agreement, the matter might have to return to the Chamber to be determined, but I consider that this has been a reasonable start to the process of trying to order debate to ensure that all the major issues are addressed.
I fervently believe, as I said in Committee, that it is crucial that Mrs. Gillan seems to give her support to the doctrine of unripe time. She seems to be saying that although in principle she favours the establishment of the court, it is not the right time for us to ratify the statute. Would she regard it as the right time for us to do so when 60 other countries have already set the processes in concrete, which would exclude us from participation in the choice of the judges operating in the court?
The right hon. Gentleman is putting in my mouth words that I never said--in fact, I have said the reverse. I have said that if the Minister is trying to justify the programme motion with the lame excuse that we need to be in the first 60 countries to ratify, it is worth remembering that only two countries have ratified this year, bringing us up to a total of 30, and that there is plenty of time, as far as I know, to be in the first 60 but to give this legislation proper scrutiny in the middle of a decent Parliament, when it is not being rushed through with undue haste.
The hon. Lady begs a great many questions in talking about the amount of time that is required. I do not know whether she has considered what is going on in the legislative and ratification processes of all the other countries. She might be right that it will take a little time for a sufficient number of members to ratify the treaty, but I would not wish to leave such a matter to chance, and it is very important that this country gives a lead. It is important not only for us to be among those countries that can influence the operation of the court, its structure, its rules of procedure and the like, but for us to give a lead to other countries that might, for unsuitable reasons, be delaying ratification of the treaty.
I commend the Government for their handling of the Bill. The Minister has been extremely sympathetic in his handling of interventions and amendments. He has shown not merely tolerance of arguments, including some that I have made at some length, but a genuine sympathy for the process of deliberation. It is a travesty of what happened in Committee to suggest that he and the Government have been unsuitably precipitate in their handling of the Bill. The reverse is the case, as will be clear to anyone who takes the trouble to read the record. I have no doubt that those NGOs that were spoken of with a certain disfavour by one Conservative Back Bencher earlier will at least read Hansard. They will know that there has been suitable deliberation, and that although the one issue on which uncertainty remains--universal jurisdiction--has had to be temporarily shelved, that shelving was not the result of any failure by the Government to provide enough time to debate it.
The right hon. Gentleman is being much too generous to the Government, given the timing of the presentation of the Bill to the House of Commons. In the first instance, the Bill was never expected to reach the stage that it has reached, because it would have been lost had there been a
It is uncharacteristic of the hon. Gentleman to indulge in such hyperbole. There has been a great deal of time to consider all the issues that were before the Committee, and many of them were considered in another place before they were raised by us in Committee. The Government have decided, in the last analysis, to stand, not on the issue of time, but on what they have decided is appropriate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not agree with the Government on universal jurisdiction, but even on that issue it has not been lack of time that has caused the Government to end the discussions. They have done so because they believe that they are right, and, to be candid, they are entitled to do so; they have at this time a majority.
I hope that, in the limited time that is available to us to consider these matters, we shall not indulge in criticism of the procedures. It will be more interesting to revert, as soon as possible, to the issue of substance, while recognising that the paramount interest of this country in today's proceedings is implementation of the Bill, to enable us to give effect in our domestic law to the provisions that have already been agreed by our signature to the statute of Rome.
I will not delay the House long, but it is important to place on the record from the Labour Back Benches, from someone who served on the Committee, my belief that we had an excellent debate in Committee and covered a wide range of areas.
It is somewhat duplicitous or hypocritical for the Opposition to advance arguments that imply that although they allegedly support the Bill, they are voting against the programme motion. It is not yet clear to me whether they will vote against Third Reading, but it was suggested in Committee by at least one Opposition Member that they would vote against the Bill if amendments were not agreed. Perhaps the modern Conservative party, in which the Back-Bench tail wags the dog, is in fact a kind of Leninist party--
The Conservative party supports the Bill but opposes the programme motion, like a rope supporting a hanging man.
The Bill meets many of the aims that the Conservative party claimed that it wanted to achieve. We had extensive debate in Committee. The programme motion gives us the chance to get the legislation through the House today. If we cannot do so, the Bill will not receive Royal Assent before the election, and it will be lost.
The hon. Lady may think that, but perhaps she is referring to what is inside her head.
If the Bill falls, it will not be easy to reintroduce it quickly. It would again have to go through all its stages in both Houses of Parliament following the election on
We would not be able to complete all stages until the end of July, or even October or November. There would be no guarantee that this country would be one of the first 60 to pass such legislation. Therefore, we would not be one of the most influential countries in the International Criminal Court. For those reasons, we must vote for the programme motion and conclude business on the Bill today.
The Government must be delighted to have such subservient minions as Mr. Gapes, who has just addressed the House with such conspicuous lack of articulate sense.
I oppose the programme motion not because I am against the concept of an international cMrs. Gillan on the Front Bench. However, it is ludicrous to rush through a Bill that is supported in principle on both sides of the House. As there is a commitment to such legislation on both sides of the House, it matters not who forms the Government after the election--although it matters very much from other points of view. All we need is a commitment to putting the matter near the beginning of the Queen's Speech and to getting a Bill through the House. Any Member who is concerned with these issues--some of us have not had the benefit of serving on the Committee--must know that they are of great complexity and far-reaching importance and that it is crucial that we get the legislation right.
I am sorry, but I do not have the time to do so.
In rushing the Bill through the House, there is a danger of our creating bad law. I want to say that, above all, that is symptomatic of the Government's steamroller approach, to which we have become increasingly accustomed during this Session of this very subservient Parliament, in which those in serried ranks behind the Government have supported whatever the Government have said and have been prepared to do whatever the Government have wanted them to do.
As my hon. Friend says, with his normal self-effacing modesty, they are craven lickspittles--but far be it from me to use such appalling jargon.
The Government have been able to do whatever they have wanted because of their huge majority. The electorate ought to have regard to that, as should Labour Members. None of us knows the result of the election. Many think that they know, but no Member in this Chamber does know. There will be a time--[Interruption.] I wish that the Minister would stop behaving in such an unministerial manner, by sitting on the Front Bench making silly interventions.
I need no lessons from the hon. Gentleman.
Sooner or later--it could well be