HC Deb 29 June 2000 vol 352 cc1038-9
28. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

What the purpose was of the recent Conference of European Chief Justices and Attorney Generals sponsored by Her Majesty's Government in London; and what the cost was to the Law Officers Department. [127059]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

A conference of presidents of the supreme courts and Attorneys-General of the member states of the European Union has taken place every two years since the 1970s. The conference is not, formally speaking, an EU event. The theme of this year's conference was human rights, focusing in particular on the impact of the European Court of Human Rights over the past 50 years, the relationship between EC law and ECHR law and the doctrine of the margin of appreciation. The cost to the UK Government was £60,000.

Ann Clwyd

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that under the international law principle of universal jurisdiction, those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide can be prosecuted in any country? Did the EU meeting discuss the responsibility of various EU countries to prosecute war criminals, particularly Iraqi war criminals, and what is the role of the United Kingdom in all this?

The Solicitor-General

I cannot reveal the substance of the discussions as they proceeded on the basis of the Chatham House rules. My hon. Friend knows that we and other European states are determined that, for example, there should be an international criminal court. Draft legislation on that will be published in the fairly near future. The United Kingdom Government and other European Governments are also signatories to instruments such as the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

My hon. Friend will know also that the acts of the Government and of the UK courts in the Pinochet case have been warmly welcomed throughout the world in establishing that there should be no hiding place for war criminals.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Will the Solicitor-General share with us his view of the status of any agreed charter or convention on human rights, even one that is not incorporated in the treaties, in the light of his discussions with his colleagues in other countries? Does he take the view that is circulating in parts of the Government that any such agreement, even if not in the treaty, could be used in the European Court of Justice and could become part of UK law, even though the Prime Minister is saying that it would not do so?

The Solicitor-General

We have made it clear that the charter must be simply declaratory; it should not create any new competences. That is accepted by President Herzog, who chairs the convention that is drawing up the charter. We are absolutely clear about that: no new competences and a purely declaratory charter. We take the view also that a charter would set out clearly for EU citizens the rights that they have. We consider that to be very important.

We are aware of the problem that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, but we have said clearly that the European Court of Justice must not go beyond existing rights. We have said that social rights are better dealt with in other ways. Some of the social rights that have emerged—in terms, for example, of a fair balance between family and work life—are legally pretty meaningless.

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