Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords]

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 2:57 pm, 1st April 2009

No, it would not have made the slightest difference. I do not believe that even the most resilient crystal could resist the pressure of an incoming attack. I do not think a crystal affords any protection at all. I shall say something shortly about the punishment for those who misuse such emblems in war and those who abuse them by not recognising the international sanctity that should surely be afforded them.

Perhaps I could have the Minister's attention for a moment. She might wish to hear what I am about to say. Under the heading "Territorial Extent and Application", the explanatory notes accompanying the Bill state:

"The provisions of the Bill extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. As far as Scotland is concerned, the Bill relates only to reserved matters."

I do not quite understand what that means. Perhaps the Minister will explain why the updating of the legislation should be a reserved matter.

The explanatory notes continue:

"Under clause 3, there is power to extend the provisions to the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and British overseas territories."

Do the Government intend to extend that power, and if so, when? Would it not be logical to do everything at the same time?

Let me turn briefly to an issue on which I have been intervening this afternoon: the issue of punishment for abusing those labouring under the protection of the UN, in whatever guise, and for misusing the emblems in a time of warfare. We have discussed what punishments are available. According to the research paper I have here:

"Clause 1 of the current Bill and its Schedule would add the red crystal to the list of emblems protected by the 1957 Act."

That is good. It continues:

"A grave breach of the Protocol (perfidious use of the emblem for the purpose of killing injuring or capturing an adversary during an international armed conflict) would be punishable by up to 30 years' imprisonment (or, if the offence involved murder, life imprisonment)."

I wonder whether the Minister can cite, under the existing legislation—I thought she might be rising to give me an answer, but no such luck—a single example of a grave breach of the protocol being punished either with 30 years' imprisonment or by life imprisonment. Assuredly there have been such grave breaches, and they continue to take place.

The paper continues:

"Unauthorised use of the emblem will be punishable by a fine of up to level 5 on the standard scale (currently £5,000) and the court may order the forfeiture of any goods or articles upon or in connection with which the emblems or designs were used."

I do not think the courts will do much in some backward valley in Afghanistan if someone is driving around with a red crescent, or even a red crystal, painted on a pick-up truck, but here we have a wonderful international legal framework to punish those who abuse the UN, either by misusing its symbols or by attacking those who are protected under them.

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