Amendment 14

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 9th March 2021.

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Lord Robertson of Port Ellen:

Moved by Lord Robertson of Port Ellen

14: Clause 6, page 4, line 11, at end insert—“( ) An offence is not a relevant offence if it amounts to—(a) torture, within the meaning of section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (torture); or(b) genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime as defined in section 50 of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 (meaning of “genocide”, “crime against humanity” and “war crime”).”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment provides that the presumption against prosecution does not apply to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or torture.

Photo of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Labour

My Lords, the amendment stands in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, and my noble friend Lord West. It provides that the presumption against prosecution does not apply to war crimes, crimes against humanity or torture.

I am an instinctive supporter of our Armed Forces and the civilians who support them. I always was, but as Secretary of State for Defence and then Secretary-General of NATO, and with the heavy responsibilities that both posts impose, my regard and admiration grew and was magnified. In those posts, it is a huge responsibility to bear in the duty of care, not only to the staff who work for and to oneself but in carrying responsibility for the safety and security of those who we and they seek to protect. In the light of those factors and the fact that I have had personally to make the decision to deploy forces into danger overseas, I was almost automatically in favour of legislation that would have prevented vexatious investigations and prosecutions that make life a misery for so many of those we send to defend the country’s interest.

I want to ensure that we keep our legal system so trusted and clean that the International Criminal Court would be so confident of our system that it would instead focus its attention on the many outrageous examples of military excess elsewhere in the world. If this legislation had effectively dealt with these two objectives, I would be not only supporting this Bill but championing it. Sadly, neither of these criteria have been satisfied, and instead the Bill does the opposite. Not only that, but the Government—Her Majesty’s Government—have resolutely and implacably ignored and contradicted the universality of criticism of the Bill. In the face of warnings from all corners, they seem to be ploughing ahead with a measure which will damage the reputation of our legal system and that of Britain’s Armed Forces. That is why this amendment is before the Committee today and why it has so much support.

The problem—one might even go as far as to say the scandal—was summed up in a report that we have already heard about by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. This is a bipartisan committee of both Houses of the British Parliament, which said

“we have significant concerns that the presumption against prosecution breaches the UK’s obligations under international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict), international human rights law

When we consider the opprobrium that was heaped on the Government regarding the internal market Bill, the Northern Ireland Secretary’s actual admission at that time that they had broken international law, and the Government’s subsequent surrender on that point, this is an unprecedented accusation for a bipartisan committee of Parliament to make of a parliamentary Bill.

The committee went on to say:

“At a minimum, the presumption against prosecution should be amended so that it does not apply to torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.”

That is precisely what Amendment 14 does. Passing it could yet go some way to saving our country’s reputation and standing in the world.

As everybody has been saying, the Minister is a decent and intelligent person, and I deeply respect her. Will she tell us why she thinks that it is of no matter that this legislation is a signal to the world that we, the United Kingdom, are reneging on our commitment to the very standards that we, the British, had so much to do in the designing and upholding of? Why was torture specifically excluded from the presumption against prosecution when it was in the consultation, and then changed when it came to the Bill itself?

Saving our troops serving overseas in our name from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court has already been raised in the debate. I was in the Cabinet in 1997 which took the decision to sign the United Kingdom up to the International Criminal Court. In a world scarred by atrocities, massacres, war crimes and genocidal attacks, it was a trailblazing international effort to bring to justice those who transgress against the norms and international standards of the civilised world. Of course, there were some who advised against Britain participating in the ICC; the United States, China and five other countries had opted out, after all. The doubters believed at the time that our troops could be tried twice, but Robin Cook—the Foreign Secretary at the time—and I were of the same mind.

Britain’s exemplary legal system and processes, honed over the centuries, were robust enough to ensure that the ICC could raise no objection to our domestic processes, and that has been the case until this legislation appeared in its present form. Now, our current Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, has received a letter from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, giving him a salutary warning. It is a tough letter and a grave message that should not be ignored or dismissed.

Fatou Bensouda said that were the effect of applying a statutory presumption to impede further investigations and prosecutions of crimes allegedly committed by British service members, the result would be to

“render such cases admissible before the ICC”.

She also said:

“I believe we would all lose, victims, the Court and ICC state parties, were the UK to forfeit what it has described as its leading role, by conditioning its duty to investigate and prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law, crimes against humanity and genocide on a statutory presumption against prosecution after five years.”

These are salutary words from the chief prosecutor of the ICC.

I did not believe that our country’s legal system should give any cause for concern to the ICC. It has not, but only up until this point. In its briefing for Committee, the Law Society makes the point about how the new

“presumption against prosecution in the Bill creates a special category of criminal case, hitherto unrecognised in UK law.”

As such, in the Bill, the Government meddle recklessly with principles of British law that have lasted for centuries, and, in doing so, they have opened a door to the questioning of the very integrity of our domestic legal processes. The statute of the ICC, signed up to by this country, states starkly in Article 29:

“The crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court shall not be subject to any statute of limitations.”

I remind the Committee that, in the Rome statute, the crimes referred to are genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes—the very crimes we are talking about in this amendment.

I will make one final point. In its report on the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House pointed out that

“torture is just one example of a serious offence that could be added to, or (subsequently) removed from, Schedule 1.”

The Government’s response to the committee noted this point and suggested that, if there were to be such a change by secondary legislation,

“then it may be appropriate to engage with the public under these circumstances, for example, via a public consultation.”

If my amendment is accepted, I do not believe for a moment that there would be any need for a public consultation to remove from the schedule the likes of torture, which the committee has drawn attention to. That is why this amendment to Clause 6 is so important: it renders irreversible the inclusion of torture and war crimes and prevents Henry VIII powers being abused in this connection.

I return to where I started—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, in all decency—and repeat my respect, admiration and, indeed, affection for those who serve us in uniform. They are special people and we owe them so much. The Bill pretends to offer support for them, but instead it undermines their reputation. It pretends to protect them from vexatious prosecution and investigation but instead opens them to ICC prosecution. It pretends to uphold strong, reputable British legal standards but actually undermines and devalues these very standards. I urge the Government to think again and accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords) 6:45 pm, 9th March 2021

My Lords, I support Amendment 14 for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, has given. But I also wish to speak to Amendment 36 in my name, which would add torture to the list of statutory offences in Schedule 1, and to Amendments 37 to 45 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, which broaden the list of exceptions to include genocide and crimes in breach of the Geneva conventions.

In effect, what we are seeking to do is to provide the Government with an alternative to the approach taken by Amendment 14, which would place these exclusions in the body of the Bill—and in that way be more secure—and not in the schedule. For what it is worth, I should explain that I got in first with my Amendment 36, but I certainly do not claim primacy for my approach. I was seeking to fit in with the structure of the Bill, and it did not occur to me to deal with these issues in the rather more skilful way proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson.

My particular interest, for the reasons mentioned at Second Reading, is to ensure that torture is not a relevant offence for the purposes of the Bill. It is all very well—if I may say so with great respect—for the Minister to say that the Government take that offence very seriously. But the case for excluding it is compelling—as indeed it is for the other offences on this list. The risk, if this is not done, of our armed personnel being prosecuted in the ICC has been addressed by others, including the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. However, I wish to emphasise the nature and strength of our international obligations and the importance of adhering to them and of our being seen to do so.

The torture convention stands out as an instrument which places torture carried out by public officials or others acting in an official capacity, such as those in our armed services, at the very top of crimes abhorred by the international community. Of course, the same could be said of genocide, although the rather primitive genocide convention lacks the teeth that the torture convention provides. Lord Bingham of Cornhill, as the senior Law Lord presiding over the Appellate Committee of this House, said in one of his judgments that the nature of the prohibition of torture requires the states that are parties to the convention, as we are,

“to do more than just eschew the practice of torture.”

Condemnation carries with it the obligation to punish acts of torture wherever and whenever the perpetrator is found within our territory. There is no time limit on this obligation. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, said earlier today, there is no exemption for this offence.

The idea that there should be a presumption against prosecution, making it exceptional for proceedings to be brought, as Clause 2 provides, simply cannot be reconciled with our obligations under Articles 4 and 5 of the convention to establish jurisdiction over and punish the torturer. These obligations are not qualified. They are not in any way reduced or softened by the passage of time. The plain and simple breach of the convention, which that provision amounts to unless torture is excluded from its reach, would be very regrettable, to say the least. It is certainly not the example we should be setting for other signatories of the convention which may be less concerned to uphold it than we are or have legal systems less strong than ours. We should uphold the convention, not undermine it, as the Bill seeks to do. I am sorry to put it that way, but, quite frankly, that is what is happening here.

There is another point, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. One of the innovations in the torture convention was the concept of universal jurisdiction. All states that signed that convention have a duty to establish jurisdiction over an offender. We recognised our obligation to do this in the case of Senator Pinochet. We will be doing members of our armed services a great disservice if, by declining to prosecute them here by applying this presumption, we expose them to the risk of being prosecuted by other contracting states anywhere in the world that are more alert to their obligations under the convention than we would be. Let us avoid that risk, as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, seeks to do.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence) 7:00 pm, 9th March 2021

My Lords, I support this amendment, to which I have added my name. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, not least as, like him, I had the privilege of serving as an advocate depute, as Crown counsel, under the authority of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

As others have done, I begin by saying that the Armed Forces have my unequivocal support and admiration, not least because they often put themselves at risk of their lives in the interests of this country. More particularly, in recent months they have demonstrated precisely the flexibility and capability that have enabled us to deal with the problems caused by the coronavirus.

I can be brief because I shall speak only to Amendment 14. In doing so, I accept and adopt the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, authoritative as it was because of his previous responsibilities as Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary-General of NATO. It is clear that the purpose of this amendment is simple: to remove the presumption against prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture. I accept that the Bill does not prevent prosecution, but I believe that a presumption against it is misconceived.

In support of that, I pray in aid the executive summary of the Bill produced by the authoritative Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law on 19 January 2021. I begin with a direct quote. It says that

“murder, torture and other grave war crimes face substantial legal barriers before there can be a prosecution. ... The Bill undermines our obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.”

Further, it says that the Bill weakens the United Kingdom’s reputation for decisive action against war crimes and increases the likelihood that British soldiers may be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court. We heard, in the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, of this amendment, the particular interest that the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is taking in this legislation.

I have great difficulty in understanding the Government’s position on this matter. I have tried. I listened to and, indeed, read again the speech of the noble Baroness at Second Reading. She was kind enough to extend the opportunity to me and others to discuss particular issues connected with the Bill. I have read, too, the letter that the Government produced.

Respectfully, one difficulty is the fact that there is opposition such as I have described. I have no recollection, in the proceedings on the Bill so far, of any noble Lord speaking enthusiastically in support of the provisions that we seek to remove. That opposition consists, for example, of the Joint Committee on Human Rights—as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has just told us—General Sir Nick Parker, Elizabeth Wilmshurst and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. I would add to that panoply the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, because, in the latter part of his speech on the first group that we discussed today, quoting the perceptive remarks of Mr John Healey, Member of Parliament, in the other place, he made the case against the Government’s provisions as eloquently as I have heard. If this were a piece of civil litigation, it would be easy to argue that all the authorities favour the amendment. I favour the amendment for this reason: it is necessary for both reputation and regulation, and I shall vote for it.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, I understand the stated rationale for this Bill and I state at the outset that I have enormous respect for the noble Baroness the Minister, but I am struggling. I am not a lawyer, but I would like to focus on a couple of specific questions. I understand the difficulty with vexatious and untimely litigation, which is a curse, but legitimate litigation, however inconvenient, is surely the blessing of a free and civilised society that honours international law and a rules-based system in more than words.

The basic reason why I speak in support of Amendment 14 is that I fear the law of predictable or conscious consequences more than the law of unintended consequences. I ask the Minister to explain clearly this anomaly, which I cannot get my head around: this Bill, as currently drafted, will make it possible for an incident of torture or murder not to be prosecuted while a sexual offence committed in the same incident would be subject to prosecution. That suggests to me either that the reference to sexual offences is arbitrary or that torture and crimes against humanity and so on should also be admitted in the same category.

I understand the assertion that the Bill does not prevent prosecution, but we are dealing with law, not just with assertions of what may or may not be possible—it is what is written in the body of the Bill. I have said that I am not a lawyer, but I support the Armed Forces—my first career was at GCHQ in Cheltenham, providing direct support to our forces, not least during the Falklands conflict—and, despite not being a lawyer, I know that torture is absolutely forbidden in both domestic and international law and that no bars to prosecution are possible.

As Field Marshall Lord Guthrie pointed out more than once, these restrictions in the Bill cannot stand unchallenged. He said:

“By introducing a statutory presumption against prosecution and statutes of limitations, this bill undermines the absolute and non-derogable nature of the prohibition of torture and violates human rights law as well as international criminal and humanitarian law.”

Making torture an excluded offence under the Bill would, I think, have the double benefit of first, avoiding what Lord Guthrie rightly called the “de facto criminalisation” of the offence and, secondly, keeping the UK in line with the rules-based international order that we claim to uphold.

Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are similarly forbidden in law. Amending the law as proposed in the triple lock would make the UK the only country in the world to have deliberately legislated to restrict the Geneva conventions. Where does this place us in a world to which we claim to be an example of law and civility? Most oddly to my mind, however, as a signatory to the 1998 Rome statute, which enables the International Criminal Court to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when a Government are unable or unwilling to do so, the Bill will make it possible for British soldiers to be prosecuted in the Hague—that is, before a foreign court. Really?

I strongly support the amendment not just because of the legal questions, but because there is a strong moral case for it. I recognise that the last time I made a moral argument in this House during the internal market Bill, it was dismissed by another Minister with the words, “We will not be listening to moral strictures,” but there is a moral case here. The church that I represent stands with victims of torture, and I think that our nation has done hitherto and should continue to do so. Our reputation as a country that is committed to the rules-based international order matters more than I think we sometimes realise. This amendment would further incentivise the UK to maintain the highest standards on the battlefield. It is this that differentiates the civilised from the uncivilised in combat.

If the Government will not accept the amendment, I would be grateful if they could explain rationally, legally and consistently, and perhaps even morally, why these anomalies are acceptable.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow a West Country SIGINTer. I will speak to Amendment 14 in support of my noble friend Lord Robertson and the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Campbell of Pittenweem. It is extraordinary that the presumption against prosecution applies to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture. These crimes have a special place in the rubric of human rights unacceptability. In its current form, this legislation would seem to decriminalise such crimes by members of the Armed Forces if they are reported after five years. This cannot be the intention and serves the interests of no one. Indeed, in their attempt to protect the military, the Government will in fact damage our Armed Forces and cause our international standing serious harm, as has been said by all of the previous speakers.

If the Government say that the threat is more apparent than real because this will not happen, that will not wash, as the very strong perception remains, and that in itself can be damaging. As has been said before, there are a number of things about this Bill where the perception is almost more important than the fact. There should be no doubt in people’s minds about the commitment of the UK Armed Forces to adherence to international law in relation to war crimes. If their enemies believe they are not, they will feel that they have a right to be unconstrained in their behaviour against our people.

The Government initially seemed to understand that it is in the interests of all for allegations of torture to be investigated fully whenever they might arise. I have to say that I do not understand why they have changed their position. If war crimes are excluded from this, as has been said by a number of speakers, there is also an increased likelihood of UK service personnel being brought before the ICC. In debate on the International Criminal Court of 2001, it was made very clear that accusations of crimes mentioned would be tried by British courts, and we put huge effort into making sure that would be the case. It would be a disgrace if inadvertently, by reducing the scope for prosecutions in this country, we were to increase the scope for prosecutions in the Hague and possibly, as has been said, elsewhere in the world. That does not help our servicemen and women. I believe strongly that this amendment would ensure that that will not happen and I will vote for it.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench 7:15 pm, 9th March 2021

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord West, I speak to Amendment 14. I strongly support this amendment. Torture, genocide and other crimes identified in the laws of conflict should never be subject to doubt that they are not fundamental to the way in which our Armed Forces are expected to operate, no matter how stressful or dangerous the situation they are exposed to on operations overseas. A dangerous ICC charge of not upholding such international law could arise.

Government reasoning for not including torture and war crimes, as is done for sexual crimes, seems to be that there might be some discernible range of tortures or crimes in the Geneva conventions which could be taken into account by the prosecuting authority—bearing in mind the stresses of active overseas operations—before reaching a decision to prosecute. If that is the case, surely it could be applied to consideration of a discernible range of sexual crimes, which the Bill seeks to eliminate from any consideration. Whether it is sexual crimes or torture, degrees of criminality surely can arise. If so, that should not be some explanation, reason or excuse for not prosecuting; neither should be singled out for different treatment. Torture and war crimes should be grouped with those of sex and treated as crimes always to be prosecuted.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, I support Amendment 14 and have considerable sympathy for the other amendments in this group, so I will speak generally about these issues. Like all the previous speakers on this group, I believe that this Bill, as presently drafted, undermines our obligations under the Geneva conventions and the UN Convention against Torture, which explicitly require that serious international crimes, such as torture, genocide and crimes against humanity, are investigated and prosecuted. I am deeply concerned about this Bill because it promotes the growing, dangerous idea that the UK can simply set aside international obligations in law. Its entry into force will be yet more evidence of what Theresa May called the abandonment of the UK’s moral leadership on the world stage, and will add to the risk of more prolonged investigations of our Armed Forces, not fewer.

The Government have excluded a number of sexual offences listed in Schedule 1 from the scope of the Bill. During the Bill’s passage through the other place, the Government were asked on several occasions to explain why crimes such as torture and genocide remain within scope of the Bill, while offences of a sexual nature are excluded. In response, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Defence People and Veterans argued that violent and lethal acts are sometimes justified during combat, and these activities can expose service personnel to allegations of torture or other war crimes, whereas sexual violence can never be justified. The Minister repeated that explanation and expanded upon it at Second Reading.

I struggle to understand this explanation or to grasp why this distinction has been made. The best I can do is to summarise it in this way: the argument seems to be that the very nature of war or conflict justifies special rules to protect those engaged in conflict from allegations that they have breached the laws designed, sometimes solely but at least in part, to prevent just war and conflict from being used as an excuse for the perpetration of the most egregious crimes. This argument simply cannot be allowed to prevail.

The use of torture, like sexual offences, can never be justified. The legal definition of torture describes it in terms of the “intentional” or “deliberate” infliction of severe pain or suffering. In short, these acts are clearly distinct from legitimate use of force during combat. It is surely our duty to ensure that no British service personnel will be engaged in a situation which would put them at risk of credibly being accused of conduct meeting any of the relevant definitions of torture, genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

In the event of a rare, credible allegation of such behaviour being levelled at British service personnel, they should be effectively investigated and, where there is sufficient reliable and credible evidence, prosecuted. That is my understanding of our obligations and what we should be seeking to support with no conditionality.

Ministers who deny that the triple lock will weaken our stance on such crimes dismiss these arguments with the rhetorical equivalent of a wave of the hand, even though a large and diverse coalition of military, legal and other experts have sustained their view that it will do exactly that. As your Lordships’ House has heard from every previous speaker, they can explain comprehensively why that is the case.

I have one final point and I make no apology that it is a point which has already been made by every one of the preceding speakers. What is effectively a de facto statute of limitations on the prosecution of crimes makes it much more likely that British soldiers will be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, which acts only where countries are unwilling to prosecute their own citizens. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, explained very clearly at Second Reading and repeated today that this not only makes investigation and possible prosecution by the ICC more likely, but also subjects them to the possibility of such investigations and prosecutions by any number of other jurisdictions.

There are three very specific public warnings of the risks of investigation and possible prosecution by the ICC. In addition to the letter to Ben Wallace, which has been referred to on a number of occasions, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court warned that if a proposed presumption against prosecution were introduced, it

“would need to consider its potential impact on the ability of the UK authorities to investigate and/or prosecute crimes allegedly

The Office of the Prosecutor also stated in the final report Situation in Iraq/UK published in December 2020, that it will continue to monitor the development of the Overseas Operations Bill and its impact, and may revisit its decision not to take action against the UK for war crimes committed in Iraq in the light of new facts or evidence. The increased risk of investigation or prosecution by the ICC also applies in respect of other past and future overseas operations.

We should all, Government and Parliament, remember that we have a solemn commitment to our Armed Forces given on ratification of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, that no member would ever be at risk of appearing in The Hague. If this Bill in its present form becomes an Act of Parliament, it will be a deliberate breach of this commitment and the ultimate irony is that it will expose our armed forces in the future to long and possibly repeated investigations.

Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister, who has dealt with our concerns so graciously all afternoon, will probably realise that we now come to the winter of our discontent. It is here that I hope—if I may say so, with great respect—that she will consider even more carefully what is being said.

I support Amendments 14 and 36 in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead. He made the point—we hear it quite often in your Lordships’ House—that an undertaking from the Government to take seriously—to say that it is the intention of the Government—is not in itself a sufficient replacement for statute where something as vitally important as this is concerned.

Torture does not work—you hear what you want to hear—but it is also abhorrent, and, as the right reverend Prelate just said, it is immoral and uncivilised. We need for that reason to set an example which will protect our service men and women from possible torture if captured. I hope the noble Lord, Lord West, will forgive me if I quote a little further from what he has written:

“What is quite clear, and it was inculcated in us from day one of warfare training, is that ‘there are no circumstances in which torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment can ever be justified’; it’s a principle that all members of our military must, and do, abide. We must be wary of creating a perception and certainly not a reality that this is not the case.”

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I do not know whether I am proud to speak in support of my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and all the other moving speeches that I have heard or devastated that I feel that I need to. The arguments are clear and compelling and have been made from across your Lordships’ House. I need not repeat them save to remind the Minister that the warning from the chief ICC prosecutor is a very serious matter indeed and not something that any of us can be proud of. I therefore note in particular the speeches of my noble friends Lord Robertson and Lord Browne of Ladyton, former Defence Secretaries and one is a former Secretary-General of NATO. I have not always agreed with them on every matter of human rights disputes but the Minister and all your Lordships will know that their comments would not have been made lightly.

It was also important that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, reminded us of the universal jurisdiction over torture. I must therefore support not just Amendment 14 from my noble friend Lord Robertson but all noble Lords who are attempting to limit the reach of the Bill and prevent the presumption applying to war crimes, genocide, torture and crimes against humanity.

I say without hesitation to noble Lords who are not speaking in this group and who perhaps spoke in the past about what members of our Armed Forces would expect and whether we should feel comfortable looking them in the eye, that I have never met a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces who has attempted to justify any of those grave offences—quite the opposite. So much of their honour and their vocation is about believing in the rule of law and human rights internationally and putting their lives on the line so that grave offences of that kind are defeated elsewhere in the world and ruled out.

I return to the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds about sexual abuse. The Minister said very clearly on an earlier group that sexual offences had been singled out in the Bill because, in her words, the Government wanted to be clear that that kind of behaviour is never acceptable. Clearly, as a matter of domestic and international law, the offences touched on in this group—war crimes, genocide, torture and crimes against humanity—are never acceptable either. So there is a complete illogic about including sexual offences but not these other very grave matters.

The Minister will say that this is not a statute of limitation, it is just presumptive. I am afraid that that will not wash with large numbers of the public nor, crucially, elsewhere in the world, including, it would seem, with the chief prosecutor of the ICC. Furthermore, even if it were impossible for these offences ever to be perpetrated by Her Majesty’s forces in future, we have been told repeatedly that this is as much about reassurance and the signals that we send as it is about the letter of the law. Well, reassurance is a two-way street. It is of course about protection for our Armed Forces, but it is also about sending signals, not just to our Armed Forces but to our allies and friends—and to our enemies, including enemies who, I am sorry to say, might at some point in future have members of Her Majesty’s forces in their custody. That is perhaps the moment when these grave crimes become a matter of even closer concern than they are the rest of the time.

I say to the Minister, for whom I have a great deal of respect—I think she is a very gifted advocate but also a reasonable person, and one of the most decent members of the Government—and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, as a law officer, who I think may be in his place, that this group of amendments, perhaps more than any other, should be responded to at the close of this evening’s debate with at least an offer to consider them. It would be unconscionable for something like this group not to be reflected in the legislation when it passes. And the legislation will pass, because of the Government’s mandate and majority. The Minister will remind us at various stages that the Bill was a manifesto commitment, but it was not ever a manifesto commitment to open the door, send a signal or give reassurance in relation to war crimes, genocide, torture and crimes against humanity.

People deserve advocates—even alleged wrongdoings deserve the most gifted and fearless advocates, and everyone should be so lucky as to have such a gifted advocate as the Minister—but we do not deserve the rotten law that is about to be made, exposing our Armed Forces, and humans all over the world, to lines that should never be crossed.

Sitting suspended.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:49 pm, 9th March 2021

My Lords, the debate on Amendment 14 will now resume. I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord Browne of Ladyton, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem have made powerful speeches with which I totally agree. I will confine myself to looking more closely at the nature of the offences we are discussing.

The United Nations convention on genocide of December 1948 came about as the result of campaigning by Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term in 1943 after witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust, in which every member of his family except his brother was killed.

Article II of the convention defines genocide as an act

“committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

The acts include

“Killing … Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group … Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

No one in this country has ever been accused of genocide.

It is different with war crimes. I watched a corporal in the British Army plead guilty to a war crime in the Baha Mousa case, namely torture. He was acquitted of murder and received a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment.

War crimes are defined as grave breaches of the Geneva conventions—

“acts against persons or property protected under the provisions” of those conventions. They include wilful killing, torture, wilfully causing great suffering, unlawful deportation, the taking of hostages and other acts. To suggest that, where there is evidence sufficient to found a conviction on any of these matters, a prosecution could be avoided by a presumption against prosecution, is grotesque: “rotten law”, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said a moment ago, and I totally agree with her.

The thought that, if the DSP had decided there was sufficient evidence that a prosecution was in the public and the service interest, the Attorney-General could nevertheless block a prosecution, holding their hands up and saying that it was not a political decision, is equally demeaning. As the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, put it, it is a disgrace that it should be included in a Bill to be passed by Her Majesty in Parliament.

The picture is that there is somebody in government who has decided as a matter of policy that he or she could not block the prosecution of sexual offences with a presumption of prosecution. Why? What is the justification for selecting that category of offences when we have the types of offences not excluded? It is an arbitrary choice, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds put it. Why is there this anomaly? I look forward to the Minister’s reply. It is a mistake, is it not? I certainly hope so.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, the purpose of these amendments is familiar by now: to ensure that our service personnel are protected from the risk of prosecution in the International Criminal Court. To anyone who believes that this risk is illusory or negligible, I recommend not only the legal opinions variously expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope, by former Judge Advocate Blackett and by the Joint Committee on Human rights, but the 184-page final report of the outgoing prosecutor of the ICC, dated 9 December 2020 and entitled Situation in Iraq/UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, has already mentioned this report, so I will refer to only two things in it: the conclusion that there was a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes including torture were perpetrated by British forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, and the last words of its final page, an ominous warning that the prosecutor’s office would in the future consider

“the impact of any new legislation on the ability of the competent domestic authorities to consider new allegations arising from the conduct of UK armed forces in Iraq”.

The prosecutor’s words are reinforced by the recent letter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and echo the Australian Brereton report of November 2020—which I mentioned at Second Reading—which pointedly observed of this Bill:

“There is a large question as to whether such a law would meet the requirements of Article 17 of the Treaty of Rome.”

Of the approaches we are offered in this group, I prefer Amendment 14, on two grounds: first, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope has pointed out, because of its less vulnerable position in the body of the Bill; and, secondly, because Article 14, if I am not mistaken, maps more precisely on to the jurisdiction of the ICC. It applies to war crimes as broadly defined in Section 50 of the ICC Act 2001 and Articles 5 and 8.2 of the Rome statute.

Amendment 39, by contrast, would exclude from the presumption against prosecution only war crimes falling within Article 8.2(a) of the Rome statute: grave breaches of the Geneva conventions. That would leave within the scope of the presumption against prosecution the 26 categories of war crimes in international armed conflict that are listed in Article 8.2(b). Therefore, under Amendment 39 there would appear to be at least some risk of ICC intervention in any case that could be brought within those categories.

That was the dry contribution of just another lawyer to a debate that has seen the case for these amendments advanced with astonishing force on the very highest military, legal and political authority. The contrary case seems to be made only weakly in the Minister’s letter of the other day. Like other noble Lords, I admire the Minister greatly, and for that very reason permit myself to wonder whether the Government will really persist in opposing these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is very unusual for a Green to be among the majority. I will take great delight in that.

I cannot compete with the erudition and rationale of noble Lords who have spoken already, but I will draw attention to the fact that the Government are trying to create this triple lock against prosecution as a safe harbour for military criminals—regardless of how serious their crime—and then, out of nowhere, the Bill says, “Ah, well, these protections apply to any crime, but not sexual offences.” I am fascinated to find out the real reason for excluding sexual offences in this way. Five years after their offence, a murderer, a torturer and a thief all get protected, but an accused sexual offender gets prosecuted regardless. Even if the murderer, torturer or thief actually did it, they can get off, but an innocent person accused vexatiously of sexual offences would be prosecuted. It really does not make sense to make this exception of one category of offences.

It is not just rape; the list in Schedule 1 includes things such as

“possession of extreme pornographic images”,

“outraging public decency” and any offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, such as Section 71, which criminalises sexual activity in a public lavatory. A soldier could have consensual sex in a public toilet, kill their partner and face the outrageous prospect under this Bill of being prosecuted only for having sex in the toilet—they might be protected from the murder charge.

Likewise, the Bill singles out slavery, but only slavery for sexual exploitation—take as many slaves as you like, after five years you will probably get away with it, but you might get prosecuted for any slaves who are sexually exploited.

It staggers me that the Government have chosen this specific exemption to their messy triple lock. Of course I support it, but we must have those other exemptions as well. I ask those noble Lords who have spoken so strongly on this issue: where were they during the spy-cops Bill, when we heard criminals—police spies and police agents—being given immunity from all these crimes? In any case, it all loops back to the obvious conclusion that this Bill is ridiculous. It creates obvious and unacceptable injustice and needs to be scrapped entirely.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 8:00 pm, 9th March 2021

My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 14 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Robertson, Lord Alton, Lord West and Lord Campbell, and Amendment 36 in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead. In doing so, I apologise for not having spoken on Second Reading, due to an inadvertent mistake over timing.

I back the amendments not out of any objection to the Bill as a whole. The Bill’s objectives are laudable ones of giving protection to our service personnel against vexatious inquiries and prosecutions. However, the Bill as drafted actually increases those risks rather than reduces them. I oppose these defects, which the amendments seek to remedy on the grounds of both practicality and principle. The practical problem is a very obvious one. While the Bill places limitations in time in our domestic law on the pursuit of inquiries and prosecutions, it does not and cannot impose such limitations with respect to our international obligations under the Rome statute, which established the International Criminal Court and which Parliament ratified and gave effect to before its entry into force. The Rome statute, in whose negotiation we participated fully—I was myself involved to a modest extent when I was the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN in 1995—contains no such limitations with respect to the crimes identified in the statute. The risk is therefore, as many other noble Lords have said, that our service personnel could be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court even though we had declined, under the provisions of this Bill, to take any action.

That is no theoretical risk. Quite recently, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court decided not to pursue cases against our personnel on the explicit grounds that we had domestic legislation to deal with the alleged offences and had demonstrated our willingness to use it. This could therefore be a case, I fear, of being out of the frying pan and into the fire if we do not take steps to remove from the scope of the Bill the extraordinarily serious offences set out in the Rome statute.

The argument of principle in favour of these amendments leads on from the practical argument. The International Criminal Court is an important part of that rules-based international system which the Government have argued, quite correctly in my view, that it is in our national interest to sustain. In recent years, the Government have done a good job in doing precisely that against the intemperate onslaughts of the Trump Administration against the International Criminal Court. Here, however, we are being asked to legislate in a way that could put us in contradiction with our obligations under the Rome statute. That clearly is not a sensible or principled thing to do. At worst, it could lead to British service personnel being prosecuted unnecessarily in the ICC, which would inevitably lead to an outcry in this country, possibly challenging the basis of our membership. Less dramatically, it will be seen by the critics and opponents of the International Criminal Court around the world—in places like Russia and China, and the US in some parts of the body politic—as a weakening of our support of the court and as undermining its authority. For both the reasons of practicality and principle, I hope that the Government will, before we get to Report, reconsider these flawed aspects of the Bill and remedy them.

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to listen and to speak, however briefly, on Amendment 14, which is clearly the vehicle for correcting one of the significant flaws of the Bill. I acknowledge that I have no military experience and but limited knowledge of the law in comparison to many noble Lords in this House.

As other Members of the Committee have said, this amendment is necessary as it provides that the presumption against prosecution will not apply to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or torture. As others have said in this debate, it would restore our obligations under the Geneva conventions, the UN Convention against Torture and the Rome statute to investigate and prosecute grave breaches of humanitarian law.

I am indebted to the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, on whose material I have drawn to make these few remarks. It says that,

“although rare, abuses by the military do happen”, and that

The UK has a long and proud reputation of decisive action against war crimes … We do not protect British troops … by hiding from the truth or acting with impunity.”

On Second Reading I quoted Martin Luther King Jr, who famously said that

“the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

Sally Yates, the US Deputy Attorney-General appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015, added a caveat to this quote, saying that it does not get there on its own. That is why we have international and humanitarian law.

This amendment would correct what is clearly a flaw in this Bill as originally drafted. I cannot possibly rise to the erudition of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, or my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti. But I insist that it must be seen in the Bill that there can be no presumption against war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or torture in terms of prosecution. For this reason, I fully support this amendment.

I ask the Minister, who is clearly much admired in your Lordships’ House, to outline once more why she feels that such a presumption is appropriate and why it does not send a very bad signal that undermines the trusted nature of our legal system and our international reputation. As has been said by so many Members of the Committee, it has the potential to open our military personnel up to proceedings in the International Criminal Court—which is absolutely not where we wish to be.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, unlike the first group of amendments, this group—particularly Amendment 14—has very broad support across your Lordships’ House. That is scarcely surprising because one of the very clear omissions from the Bill was precisely the group of crimes so eloquently outlined in the opening remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen.

It is clearly right that one of the exemptions from the presumption is sexual violence—that is fine—but it is a glaring omission to leave other war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and genocide off the face of the Bill. Indeed, it has been raised at every stage of the Bill. It was raised on Second Reading in the other place and many times on Second Reading in your Lordships’ House. I have only one question to ask the Minister: how can she and the Government justify this omission?

As Members across the Committee have said, it is so important for the reputation of our country that we abide by the rule of law and the conventions which we have signed up to and have so often led. As a country, we pride ourselves on supporting certain values, including opposing torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is inconceivable that we should say that this is anything that the Armed Forces or we as a country should condone.

My only sense from the Minister, in private meetings and her response to the debate at Second Reading regarding having sexual offences going against presumption but not other war crimes, was that there would never be a case on the battlefield when use of sexual violence was sanctioned. That seems to suggest that genocide, torture or other war crimes could be sanctioned. Surely that is not what the Minister meant or what the Government mean. Were there ever to be a case of torture or genocide—God forbid—surely we should be leading the way in ensuring that it is investigated and prosecuted. The reason it is so important to have this in the Bill is precisely to demonstrate our commitment to upholding human rights and not falling down any cracks.

I am absolutely sure that nobody would willingly commit any of these crimes, and I do not think that very many cases would ever even be investigated, but the amendments need to be in the Bill to ensure that we are not resiling from the conventions that we have signed up to. The noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, who I do not think has participated on this group of amendments, earlier prayed in aid Major Bob Campbell, who had said that he would not be taken to the ICC, and it might have been better to be in front of the ICC than subject to protracted and repeated investigations. The reason that service men and women and veterans from the United Kingdom have not been taken to the ICC is precisely because of our respect for international law.

Why are the Government creating a piece of legislation that leaves such a large hole and potentially damages our reputation? It would be much better to amend the Bill, to have it include war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture, and ensure that if anyone were accused of such a crime, it would be investigated and prosecuted if necessary and there would not then be a stain. A great problem is the sense that there is a shadow hanging over somebody and the feeling of “If only it hadn’t been for that presumption” or “Because of that presumption, we are now being taken to the Hague”. Surely that is not a position the Government want to leave anybody in.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, this has been an incredibly instructive debate. Every single speaker has spoken in favour of Amendment 14 in a debate that has lasted an hour, and they could not have been more diverse in their experience: lawyers, military people, senior politicians. We have had the whole range, and they have all spoken in favour of Amendment 14.

That is hardly surprising because the Government are proposing to introduce a presumption against prosecuting people for torture, genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. The chief prosecutor of the ICC wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Defence in the past few days saying that we would all lose—victims, the court and ICC state parties—were the United Kingdom

“to forfeit what it has described as its leading role, by conditioning its duty to investigate and prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law, crimes against humanity and genocide” on a statutory presumption against prosecution after five years. I completely agree; the people who would suffer would be our military because they would become more vulnerable to be prosecuted in the ICC. We would be sending a message to the world that we were retreating from doing all we could to stop torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. That is not something that the British Government should be doing, because it is wrong and because of the practical impact.

I very much hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, will take back the message from the Lords to the Ministry of Defence that there is almost universal opposition to not including among the offences not covered by the presumption torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. I hope that she also takes back the message that she agrees and that those crimes should be put into the exempted category.

On a technical note, I support my noble friends Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord West of Spithead and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem and Lord Alton of Liverpool, in their way of dealing with this matter—that is, putting those crimes into the body of the Bill and not in a schedule, so that the Government cannot change the position by a statutory instrument subsequently. I also support an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe that the power to remove by statutory instrument any offences in the schedule at the moment should be removed. In that way, the Government cannot change their mind on, for example, sexual offences and remove their exemption from the presumption.

I cannot express more strongly the support of this side of the Committee for Amendment 14.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence 8:15 pm, 9th March 2021

My Lords, predictably this debate surrounding Clause 6 and Schedule 1 has given rise to the passionate, informed and powerful advance of arguments, which I was expecting. I have listened to the sentiment and emotion that have accompanied the articulation of the arguments and I would have to be completely mute not to hear the force of those emotions. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, indicated, the Minister has come to her winter of discontent—an apt description because the debate around this part of the Bill has encapsulated the major areas of anxiety and concern.

As I set out earlier, Clause 6 details those offences that are excluded from the measures in Part 1 of the Bill. Those are set out in Schedule 1, including offences committed against a member of the regular or reserve forces. All the excluded offences listed in the schedule are sexual offences. I shall come to that in a moment; a number of questions have been posed about it but it reflects the Government’s strong stated belief that the use of sexual violence or sexual exploitation during overseas operations is never acceptable in any circumstance.

The exclusion of sexual offences from Part 1 does not mean that we will not continue to take other offences such as war crimes and torture extremely seriously. I realise that some may dismiss these as mere words and feel unconvinced. I should say that the presumption against prosecution still allows the prosecutor to continue to take decisions to prosecute those offences, and the severity of the crime and the circumstances in which it was allegedly committed will always be factors in their considerations.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, asked why we have not excluded torture offences from Part 1 measures and why we have excluded sexual offences. In the course of their duties on overseas operations, we expect our service personnel to undertake activities which are intrinsically violent in nature. They fight, they use force, they may use lethality, and they may detain. All these activities are predictable in an overseas operation. What is not predictable, and has no place in an overseas operation, is committing a sexual offence. However, the other activities to which I referred can expose service personnel to the possibility that their actions may result in allegations of, for example, torture. If the prosecutor, having received the results of an investigation, considers that there is no case, he will not prosecute, but if he considers that there is a stateable case, Part 1 of the Bill will not prevent prosecution of torture. That is why we have made the distinction between the two different characters of crime: one that you would never expect to find in an overseas operation, and one that could arise because of action that may have been taken in good faith by Armed Forces personnel believing that it was legitimate and proportionate.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, on the strong emotions which this part of the Bill has elicited, I am aware that certain interpretations have arisen, with the suggestion that the continuing commitment to upholding international humanitarian and human rights law, including the United Nations convention against torture, is somehow undermined by the Bill. I submit that this is a misconception, which I am happy to address and correct.

The UK does not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture for any purpose, and we remain committed to maintaining our leading role in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is worth remembering that, whenever a prosecutor currently makes a decision to prosecute an offence, including offences under the International Criminal Court Act, they must consider the public interest factors in the prosecutor’s full code test, in addition to making a judgment about the strength of the available evidence.

The public interest factors include the severity of the offence, the level of culpability of the suspect, the circumstances of and the harm caused to the victim, and the suspect’s age and maturity at the time of the offence. There is no suggestion when exercising this existing discretion that our prosecutors are not acting in compliance with international law, and we consider that the same is true when they will, in future, be required to take into account the measures in Part 1 of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and other noble Lords raised the matter of the International Criminal Court and the recent letter, which I have read in detail. It is interesting that the letter postulates that where the effect of applying a statutory presumption be to impede further investigations—the Bill does not do this—or to impede prosecution of crimes, because such allegations would not overcome the statutory presumption, the ICC would want to monitor what was happening. This is a perfectly legitimate position for the ICC to adopt. Given that this was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Robertson, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, Lord West and Lord Browne of Ladyton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, it might be helpful to note here the relationship between the UK and the International Criminal Court. Some of your Lordships may be unaware of what the current relationship is, which suggests to me that something arising out of the blue would, frankly, be beyond credibility.

In accordance with International Criminal Court procedures, a preliminary examination would first need to be initiated by the Office of the Prosecutor to decide whether to take that step. In practice, in the event that the OTP was to raise issues with us about a possible investigation, that would trigger a long and very detailed preliminary examination of the situation, within which we would be consulted at each step of the way, for the OTP to determine whether it was necessary to open any investigation. That means that we would have many opportunities to prevent UK service personnel from being prosecuted at the ICC. We would be able to show that the UK national system was both willing and able to conduct investigations and prosecutions, thus rendering unnecessary the ICC’s jurisdiction over UK service personnel. I offer that additional information in the hope that it will provide some reassurance that these activities are not all operating in silos. There is a co-operative and positive relationship with the ICC.

Amendment 14, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, seeks to add wording to Clause 6(3) to explicitly exclude further offences from being a “relevant offence” under Part 1. These are torture, under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime under the International Criminal Court Act 2001.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made a very powerful submission in support of Amendments 36 to 45, which in combination would have a similar effect by ensuring that torture offences contained in Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, under the law of England and Wales, and the offences of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva convention contained within the International Criminal Court Act 2001 as it applies in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, were listed as excluded offences in Schedule 1. These amendments would amount to a comprehensive list of very serious offences to be excluded from the application of the measures in Part 1. The noble and learned Lord advanced his case cogently and with purpose, as one would expect, and others did likewise in their support of the amendments.

I am fully aware of the deep concerns that have been expressed that the Bill does not exclude these offences, and I have already set out the Government’s reasoning for excluding only sexual offences from the coverage of Part 1. I believe the perception has arisen that the absence of crimes from Schedule 1 has been equated with the non-prosecution of such serious crimes because it is assumed that the Bill will bar such prosecutions. However, I reiterate that the severity of an alleged offence will continue to be an extremely important factor for a prosecutor in determining whether or not to prosecute.

I realise that my response may be regarded by your Lordships as inadequate, so I will endeavour to provide some concluding thoughts. I have argued that the measures in Part 1 will require a prosecutor to give additional consideration to some specific matters—most importantly, the unique context of overseas operations. However, quite rightly, these measures will not prevent the prosecutor determining, having considered all the circumstances of the case, that it is appropriate to prosecute. The presumption in Clause 2 may be rebutted where it is appropriate for the prosecutor to do so.

The Bill as drafted ensures that the Part 1 measures will apply to a wide range of offences. That is to provide reassurance to our service personnel that the operational context will be taken into account, so far as it reduces a person’s culpability in the circumstances of allegations of criminal offences on historical overseas operations. I believe that we can take this approach in the knowledge that the prosecutor retains their discretion to make the appropriate decision on a case-by-case basis, including in respect of the most serious offences.

The Government have felt that, with the exception of sexual offences, all other crimes should be covered by the measures in Part 1. However, I am in no doubt as to the strength of feeling expressed by the Committee, which was neatly encapsulated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, because I did not find too many supporters speaking up for my side of the argument. I undertake to consider with care the arguments that have been advanced and to explore if there is any way by which we can assuage your Lordships’ concerns. I hope that, in these circumstances, that will persuade the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, to withdraw his amendment and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, not to move his.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees 8:30 pm, 9th March 2021

I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead. I will call them in turn: first, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

I am grateful to the noble—

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

Excuse me, Lady Chakrabarti, the Minister has not completed her speech.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I apologise for the confusion.

There was a further amendment: Amendment 15. It deals with Clause 6(6), which is the delegated power provision. That provision is there to ensure that the Government are able to respond to new developments and fresh concerns that may emerge in relation to potential offences in future overseas operations without the need to seek primary legislation every time a change is required.

Legislation that confers such a power to amend the list in the schedule to an Act is not unusual. Schedule 1 lists the offences excluded from the requirements set out in Clauses 2, 3 and 5, and the power is limited to amending this list of offences, so it has a very narrow scope. It is also not unusual that any exercise of the power to amend the schedule to an Act be subject to the affirmative procedure before any regulations can be made.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Tunnicliffe, have been supportive of this amendment. Its aim seems to be to further narrow the scope of the power in response to the concerns raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

I believe, however, that the concern over the power contained in Clause 6(6) has possibly arisen from the wider concerns regarding the requirements set out in Clauses 2, 3 and 5. I have tried to allay these concerns, and I have detected a growing acceptance that the Bill does not represent an absolute bar to future prosecutions of serious crimes. The delegated power will allow future Governments to adapt Part 1 of the Bill according to the lessons they may learn from overseas operations in future. To limit the scope so that offences can only be added to Schedule 1, as the amendment would wish, could have an impact on the Government’s ability to implement the lessons learned and adapt to what is likely to be an evolving operational landscape.

The power already has a very narrow scope and its use will still require the express approval of both Houses of Parliament. In these circumstances, I urge noble Lords to not move this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what I can call only a predictably clear and gracious response. Because the Minister has agreed to reflect on this evening’s debate and consult her colleagues thereafter, I will just press her for a moment longer on the distinction between sexual offences and torture in particular, not with a view to further back and forth this evening but in the hope that it might influence her discussions with her colleagues.

The last 20 years have taught us that when torture is practised as a weapon of war, sexual torture is often one facet of that torture. It is not a nice thing to discuss. The other side of the coin is that of false allegations and clouds hanging over innocent and brave members of Her Majesty’s forces. Our Armed Forces, when overseas, can be as easily subject to false allegations of sexual offences as to false allegations of torture or any of the other offences that are not barred from the presumption against prosecution in the Bill.

If this is not about false allegations, there must be, as I understand the rationale, some kind of thinking, perhaps at the Ministry of Defence or elsewhere, that because our Armed Forces are engaged in violence, there is some kind of fine line, or borderline, between the violence in which we understand they are engaged and torture. If that is the case, I find it very troubling indeed. Are we back in the Bush White House? Are we back with the legal advice that it is not torture when it is enhanced interrogation, for example?

It seems to me that international law and our own ethical and legal norms are very clear on the distinction between the kind of violence that is sadly necessary in war situations and genocide, crimes against humanity and torture. There is not a borderline against torture, and that tacit acceptance of a grey area is just the kind of thinking that got people into such difficulties on both sides of the Atlantic over the last 20 years. So I humbly ask the Minister, in the spirit of genuinely trying to improve this, to examine that distinction between sex and torture, and sexual torture and other forms of torture, in particular, when she goes back to her colleagues in the department and elsewhere.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Yes. I listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness said, and I undertake to look at her contribution in detail.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for a very clear exposition of how one can get around some of these difficulties. I am delighted that she is going take this back and look at it, but I ask her to ask her officials: what are the benefits for the UK of excluding these from the list? What are we gaining by that? I used to find quite often, when I was standing at the Dispatch Box for three years, that when I prodded in that way, I would find that there were no benefits, but that they were defending their position wonderfully. I am not asking for an answer now, but can she prod that to see what benefits we actually get by not having those listed?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Again, I undertake to look carefully at the noble Lord’s remarks.

Photo of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Labour

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for her gracious reply and for her willingness to take this matter away and reflect on this and other debates. I am glad that she recognises that, among the 800-odd Members of the House of Lords, the Government could not mobilise one single Member of the House to come and defend the position on this amendment. I am not surprised, and I can see the difficulty that she has in putting forward the argument.

I listened to see whether I could be persuaded by what she said—after all, some of the officials who used to work for me may still be there and producing the rationale for her this evening. However, to say simply that there is no bar to prosecution for war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity is to state only the technical argument. The fact is that the Bill gives a presumption against prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture, and that is what is going to be noticed, not the technical argument that there is no actual bar. There are barriers or, as the chief prosecutor of the ICC said, conditions laid down which will be well noticed.

Perhaps I may also say that when the Minister goes back to the Ministry of Defence and faces those who want to take a stand here, it might be worth avoiding the mistake that we make all too often in foreign relations, which is mirror imaging—looking at an issue through our eyes. In this case, if those who want to take a hard line would look at this issue through the eyes of the torturers, the war criminals and those who would perpetrate torture and crimes against humanity and see what sort of signal they are getting from the United Kingdom and its legal system, that would paint a different picture from the rather Panglossian view that just been put forward.

I feel strongly about this, more strongly than I have felt about many other things, because I feel for my country. I feel for its reputation and the credibility of our standing in the world and our reputation for adhering to agreements that we have come to. So all of us hope that the Minister will go away, think and expect others in the department and the Government to think again. On that basis, I am willing to withdraw the amendment, but I have no doubt that we will come back to the issue at later stages of the Bill.

Amendment 14 withdrawn.

Amendment 15 not moved.

Clause 6 agreed.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

We come now to the group beginning with Amendment 16. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.