Clause 2 - The International Committee of the Red Cross

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and International Committee of the Red Cross (Status) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 6 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Ceidwadwyr, Basingstoke 10:00, 6 Mawrth 2024

I beg to move amendment 1, clause 2, page 2, line 13, at end insert—

“(e) provide for protected ICRC information to be exempt from any disclosure requirement imposed by—

(i) an order of a court or tribunal in proceedings other than criminal proceedings, or

(ii) a statutory provision or rule of law.

(2) In subsection (1)(e), “protected ICRC information” means information—

(a) that is held by the government of the United Kingdom,

(b) that was obtained by the government from the ICRC, and

(c) that is confidential.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(c), information is “confidential” while the terms on which it was obtained require it to be held in confidence or while the circumstances in which it was obtained make it reasonable for the ICRC to expect that it will be so held.

(4) An exemption conferred by virtue of subsection (1)(e) does not apply to information if the ICRC—

(a) has published it, or

(b) has agreed to its disclosure for the purpose of the disclosure requirement in question.

(5) Nothing in this section or in an Order in Council made under it affects the common law rules about the withholding of information on the grounds of public interest immunity.”

This amendment allows for certain confidential information that the ICRC shares with the UK government to be exempted from legal disclosure requirements.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Llafur, Makerfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Amendment 2, clause 4, page 2, line 27, leave out “or privilege” and insert “, privilege or exemption”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1 and ensures that an exemption conferred by an Order under clause 2(1)(e) can be subject to exceptions set out in the Order.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Ceidwadwyr, Basingstoke

This section of our discussion focuses on the International Committee of the Red Cross, commonly known as the ICRC. Clause 2 and amendments 1 and 2 run together, although amendment 2 is a consequential amendment to clause 4.

Clause 2 confers on the ICRC the legal capacities of a body corporate, just as clause 1 confers them on the CPA. It is an important move for the organisation, because it enables the provision of specific privileges and immunities in respect of the ICRC. Those will be determined, as with the CPA, on the basis of the functional need of the organisation and will be specified through an individual arrangement, to be agreed upon completion of the Bill.

The clause also enables the provision of specific privileges and immunities in respect of the ICRC’s personnel, who do such important work around the world. They are limited to the privileges and immunities set out in part 2 of the schedule. This provision applies to specified officers of the ICRC—unlike the previous discussion on the CPA—as well as other specified classes of officers and servants of the organisation, for example ICRC delegates posted to the regional delegation in London.

I beg the indulgence of the Committee for the fact that there are two amendments tabled. Amendment 1 specifically relates to clause 2. There were discussions ongoing between the ICRC, myself and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office when the Bill was finalised, and therefore the final discussions on the issue of confidentiality, which is touched upon in amendment 1, were continuing when the Bill was finalised.

Amendments 1 and 2, which amend clauses 2 and 4 of the Bill respectively, provide for the protection of information provided confidentially to the Government by the ICRC from being used in UK civil court proceedings. This is an important provision for the ICRC and is necessary because of the need to withhold from public disclosure confidential information. Its provision in the Bill would provide assurance that that could take place.

Members who are looking at the issue for the first time may be interested to know that ICRC information’s being used in legal proceedings is a very real risk and concern. Over the past 15 years, the ICRC’s confidentiality has been challenged some 20 times in the UK. It is regularly approached by individuals and their lawyers to disclose information regarding, for example, its detention activities in the UK or abroad or its dialogue with British forces in theatres of conflict. There is a real need to put these important provisions in place, and I am pleased that we were able to work with the Government to get them in place in time.

The ICRC has a unique international humanitarian mandate and mission. It is critical that it is able to operate in the UK in accordance with its international mandate, maintaining a strict adherence to the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence and its working method of confidentiality. There is precedent in providing such protection. The ICRC has given me a detailed briefing on the provisions it has in place in other states with which it has concluded immunities and privilege agreements in the last 15 years. Those states have also accepted the confidentiality clause, whereby they undertake not to share with any third parties, including in legal proceedings, any ICRC-related information.

The amendment overriding the disclosure of ICRC information in certain circumstances engages the right to a fair trial under article 6 of the European convention on human rights. The Government and the Foreign Office in particular have had to look at a way to balance the need for confidentiality with the need to ensure that we are in line fully with that article. I am pleased to report that the FCDO has incorporated mitigations to the risk in the wording of the amendment by including an exclusion for criminal cases. That is not the case in other countries abroad, but it is the case in the UK to ensure that we balance carefully those important rights.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 10:15, 6 Mawrth 2024

May I commend my right hon. Friend’s words? I will speak briefly to amendments 1 and 2, which are designed to protect information that the ICRC provides in confidence to His Majesty’s Government from being used in UK civil court proceedings. That is necessary, as the withholding from public disclosure of confidential information cannot otherwise be assured. That reflects the ICRC’s standard working method of confidentiality, which is designed to protect its staff and operations in active conflict zones.

That principle also underpins the ICRC’s ability to operate in dangerous locations on sensitive issues, engaging with both state and non-state actors. Confidential information related to the ICRC’s sensitive work includes its engagement with conflict parties on international humanitarian law, mandated under the Geneva conventions, and its work with prisoners, detainees and hostages. Disclosure of confidential ICRC information would damage the ICRC’s ability to perform its sensitive functions when negotiating with conflict parties and put its staff and operations at risk.

The Government are already committed to respecting the confidentiality of the ICRC’s information as a matter of policy, and past practice has demonstrated that. This Bill is an opportunity to end any uncertainty about the Government’s position and put that practice on a statutory footing. Without such a provision, the ICRC is likely to restrict the information that it shares with the UK, including information that provides important analysis and intelligence related to UK Government priorities.

The amendments do not therefore provide an absolute or blanket exemption from disclosure requirements for all ICRC communications. Important limitations have been incorporated into the amendment, as my right hon. Friend mentioned. For example, the exemption is limited to information that has been communicated by the ICRC to the UK Government as part of its confidential bilateral dialogue related to the ICRC’s humanitarian activities.

The amendments also engage the right to a fair trial, as was mentioned, under article 6 of the European convention on human rights. The Government consider this provision both necessary and proportionate, and mitigations such as the exclusion for criminal cases mean that I can confirm that the provision may be exercised in compatibility with convention rights.

If I may touch on clause 2, the ICRC is an essential partner for achieving the UK’s global humanitarian objectives. It has a unique legitimacy to engage all parties to conflicts and has unparalleled access to vulnerable groups in conflict situations. The ICRC is frequently the only international agency operating at scale in many conflicts. With regard to clause 2 i t is therefore critical, in our judgment, that we enable the ICRC to operate in the UK in accordance with its international mandate, maintaining its strict adherence to the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence and its working method of confidentiality.

The clause confers on the ICRC the legal capacities of a body corporate. Key capacities relevant to the operation of an international organisation in the UK are to conclude contracts, to acquire and dispose of property and to institute and be party to legal proceedings.

I therefore reiterate our support for amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.