§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [27th September], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[The Attorney-General.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.13 a.m.
§ The Minister of State (Mr. Richard Law)
When the Second Reading of this Bill was moved two or three weeks ago, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, I was unable to hear the Debate because I was not in the country at the time. I fear that the loss was mine, because the Debate, quite clearly, was both interesting and stimulating. I have, however, read the Debate since my return, and I have reflected upon what I have read, and I would like to offer the House to-day the benefit, if it be a benefit, of those reflections. My first reflection is that, when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, as he did, that the Bill did not meet with universal acclaim, he showed himself to be a positive master of under-statement. I do not think I have ever read a Debate in this House in which the weight of opinion was so massively one way, and that way against the Government. I have been asking myself what the explanation was.
There are two explanations that I reject out of hand. It may be possible to argue that the criticism of the House was frivolous in intent, or malicious and mischievous. I reject that argument at once. On the contrary, it is quite clear, from the nature of the Debate, that there was a great deal of sound sense in the criticisms which hon. Members made of the Bill, and that their criticisms, generally, were inspired only with a vigilance to protect the liberties of British subjects, and that, I think, we must all commend. Equally, I reject the explanation that the Government are frivolous in introducing a Bill of this kind, because I hope to be 2087 able to convince the House before I sit down, that this Bill is necessary, and that, without this Bill, these international organisations which are now in operation, and others which may come into being, will be at a great disadvantage.
I think that the real difficulty that was in the minds of hon. Members when they discussed the Bill the other day rests on three separate considerations. In the first place, the powers which the Bill gives to the Foreign Secretary were absolutely undefined, and are therefore capable, at any rate, of serious abuse. In the second place, there was no time limit on the operation of the Bill and, accordingly, what the Foreign Secretary did under it passed to a very great extent out of the control of Parliament; and thirdly, I do not think the House was satisfied that there was any real reason for introducing the Bill at all. I hope this morning—perhaps I am optimistic—to be able to re-assure the House on all those three points. There are, I know, other points of criticism which were raised and I think I shall be able to deal with most of these in the course of what I have to say.
I would like to take, first of all, the question of the powers which are to be given to the Foreign Secretary under the Bill. I have to admit to the House that the Bill as it was introduced, is imperfect. It is imperfect because it gives to the Foreign Secretary very wide powers—very wide powers indeed—and there is no indication on the face of the Bill as to the use to which he is going to put these powers. I do not suppose that any hon. Member seriously believes that the Foreign Secretary would, in practice, do all the things which, under the Bill, he has the theoretical power to do; nor do I suppose that any hon. Member has so little confidence in our Parliamentary institutions and our Parliamentary system of Government as to believe that there could ever be a Foreign Secretary who would create a vast class of privileged persons, who would devote their leisure, and probably their working hours as well, to careering incontinently about the King's highway massacring the King's lieges with absolute impunity, having first fortified themselves with unlimited quantities of duty-free wine and spirits, purchased out of tax-free incomes. Such, in fact, was the interpretation which was put upon 2088 the Bill by many of my hon. Friends, and I must say that, having looked at the Bill again in the light of that criticism, I can see that it is open to that interpretation. Clearly, it was never the intention of the Government to give the Foreign Secretary powers of that kind, still less was it our intention that he should ever use them in that way. Accordingly, if we are fortunate enough to get a Second Reading of this Bill now, the Government will propose to introduce on Committee stage Amendments which will clarify, define and limit the powers of the Foreign Secretary.
I imagine that it would be out of Order for me now to develop the arguments which I might deploy in favour of the Amendments which are on the Paper. At the same time, it would obviously be for the convenience of the House if I gave some general indication of the modifications which we propose to make in the Bill to meet the criticism of the House of Commons. We propose to add to the Bill a Schedule, and that Schedule will define the maximum immunities which will be granted under this Bill. The Schedule will be divided into three parts. It will deal, first, with the immunities of the organisation as a corporate body; secondly with the immunities of the high officers of the organisation and the representatives of Governments on the governing body of the organisation; and thirdly, with the immunities of the subordinate officers.
First, let me say a word about the organisation as a corporate body. The Secretary of State has been able to give immunities but these are the maximum immunities he can give. It is proposed that the organisation should have four immunities—immunity from legal process, inviolability of premises and archives, immunity from rates and taxes, and immunity from import duties upon goods which are directly imported by the organisation for the purposes of the organisation. I think that what troubled the House most, as far as the organisation was concerned, was immunity from legal process, and perhaps the House will bear with me if I say a few words about that particular aspect of diplomatic immunity. I would ask the House to consider why it is that Governments—not international organisations—give each other immunity from legal process. On the face of it, it looks as though it is just an act of politeness, a little courtesy, 2089 something you can do to help the wheels of international intercourse. But, in fact, there is much more to it than that, and there is a severely practical reason why Governments give each other immunity from legal process, and I will try to explain to the House what that reason is.
If there were no immunity from legal process, it would be open to anybody in this country to bring an action in the court against a foreign Government. That might be a perfectly bona fide action and the complainant might have a genuine case against that Government, but even on that basis it would be impossible to keep out of the discussion of the case issues which were not judicial at all, but were matters of politics, and probably matters of high politics. I cannot think of any case which could be brought in which there could not be some introduction of political considerations in the legal argument. But there is another possibility, and that is, that some malicious person might bring an action against a foreign Government not in order to win the action, not in order to get damages, but simply in order to raise some highly contentious political issue, which would be fully ventilated and exposed not only in the courts, but in the Press as well. I think that hon. Members will agree that that is undesirable, and certainly I think that they will agree that, if His Majesty's Government had to appear in a foreign court and had their whole policy publicly arraigned by a foreign court, in a foreign country, it would be extremely undesirable.
Let us carry that argument a step further. More than one hon. Member in the Debate the other day referred to U.N.R.R.A. as a trading organisation. I suppose that one can call it that, though it is a good deal more than that. However, I would like to assure the House—and I have had some experience of this matter in the past two or three years—that when two or three Governments are gathered together in one place for whatever purpose, whether it is for trading, for relief, or for agriculture, whatever purpose it may be, those Governments become a political association; they are not a trading association, and the matters that they are dealing with are matters not of technicalities, but matters of high politics and, very often, extremely complicated and delicatematters. Therefore I would argue that if there is 2090 an argument for giving this immunity to Governments, there is an equally strong argument—I believe it to be irrefutable—for giving it to associations of Governments acting together. I hope the House will agree with me on that, but that still leaves unresolved one further point. Hon. Members were very fearful less an organisation such as U.N.R.R.A., or any international organisation, would enter into a contract and repudiate that contract and then the contractor, who in this case would be a British subject, would have no redress in the courts, and therefore no redress at all. I would like to assure the House that that is simply not the case, and that it is inconceivable that things should work out in that way.
I have tried to explain that immunity from legal process is essential to organisations of this kind but I would like to add that the Government fully recognise that there are classes of cases where it is necessary to provide for the settlement of legal disputes between private citizens in this country and organisations which are operating here, and that an organisation obviously must have the power to conclude contracts. The Attorney-General told the House on Second Reading that he had satisfactory assurances from U.N.R.R.A. as regards cases of this kind. U.N.R.R.A. will insert in all its contracts—we have that promise—arbitration clauses which have been approved by the Law Officers of the Crown. If a dispute arises out of one of these contracts, U.N.R.R.A. will arbitrate in accordance with those clauses, and if, as sometimes happens, it is desired to have recourse to the Courts for the determination of points of law, or other similar matters, U.N.R.R.A. will not prevent such recourse to the courts by relying on its general immunity from suit. If, at the end of the legal process or arbitration, if there is one, U.N.R.R.A. is found liable to pay, U.N.R.R.A. will comply with the award: It is our intention, if we make an Order in Council to cover any other international organisation that may be set up, to obtain from it exactly those assurances, and I have not the faintest doubt that those assurances will be given purely as a matter of course. Of course, it is possible to argue that even with those assurances an organisation might break its word, but in that case I can assure the House that His Majesty's Government would not be without resources to deal 2091 with the situation which would arise, and the House really need have no qualms at all on that point.
I would like to turn to the second part of the proposed Schedule, which deals with high officers. I think that the House must have been impressed by the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend that it was unreasonable to withhold from associations of Governments privileges and immunities which we are prepared to give to the Governments as representing sovereign national States. I think most of the uneasiness in the minds of hon. Members was due, not to the principle of giving these immunities, but to the fear lest the number of cases of high officers in which they would be given would be infinitely multiplied. Let me explain to the House how it should work out in the case of the example we have been talking about—U.N.R.R.A. There would be at most, I think, seven or eight high officers of U.N.R.R.A.—which is a fairly big organisation—who would qualify under Part II of the Schedule for the personal immunities which are described there. Of those seven or eight, there would hardly ever be in this country at the same time more than three or four, and none of the seven or eight under Part II would be a British subject, because British subjects are excluded from these immunities under Part II. We thought of specifying in the Bill the maximum figure of seven or eight to give some reassurance to hon. Members, but the obvious difficulty about that is that there is an inevitable tendency when you put down a figure in a statute, for the maximum to become the minimum, and if there were a smaller organisation than U.N.R.R.A. it would be very much more difficult to resist giving a fairly widespread immunity if we had put down a definite figure in the Bill. For that reason we thought it better to leave out any figure, and we hope, perhaps not too optimistically, that in this matter the House will be prepared to trust the good sense of the Foreign Secretary of the day.
I think that what caused the House most trouble of all, was the position of subordinate officials in international organisations. Under the Bill we proposed that they should have two forms of legal immunity; the first, immunity from legal process, covering acts performed in the 2092 course of their official duties; the second, immunity from Income Tax in the case of everybody except British subjects normally resident in this country. I would like to say a word first about the Income Tax position. It may be argued that it is unreasonable to give anybody living in this country immunity from income tax, but in cases of this kind there is a very strong practical argument for giving it, and that argument is this: His Majesty's Government only becomes a partner in an international organisation if it is in accordance with the policy of the Government and in accordance with the policy of Parliament.
His Majesty's Government are contributors to these organisations; they contribute very considerable sums of money to the purposes of the organisation. Now if the money available for the organisation is diminished by taxation, it means that the purpose which Parliament had in mind in voting the money is pro tanto not fulfilled, and it is not really possible to argue that that does not matter because the Treasury gets it back anyway, because while it is true that the Treasury gets it back in London, it does not get it back in Washington, in Paris, in Belgrade, in Prague, and anywhere else in which the organisation may have offices and representatives. The net result of a bargain of that kind would be that the British taxpayer would lose far more than he would gain, and, as I have said, the purpose which Parliament had in voting the money would not be completely fulfilled.
Let me come now to immunity from legal process as applied to the subordinate officers, who, as hon. Members have pointed out, may be numerous. I would like the House to consider just what is involved in this form of immunity from a practical point of view. I think there is some confusion in the minds of hon. Members between immunity from legal process and immunity from the operation of the common law. It is not the case that people in this country who have diplomatic immunity stand outside the common law. They do not; they are, in fact, just as much subject to the law as any hon. Member of this House, or any British subject outside this House. Immunity from suit does not imply licence to break the law at will. If it had been so, it is quite clear that diplomatic privilege would have disappeared centuries ago. 2093 Neither we nor any other country would have tolerated it.
If hon. Members will look into the past, and, indeed, into the present, they will remember the case of a man, a national of a friendly nation, who was in London under diplomatic immunity, and who is now serving a sentence in gaol. I do not want to specify the case but I am sure hon. Members will remember it. We have to remember that these organisations will value their diplomatic immunity, and will not wish to do anything themselves that will injure it, or allow any of their officers or employees to do anything that will injure it. There is an interesting case in point. The I.L.O., which was raised in the Debate, has diplomatic immunity very much as we are proposing in this Bill, which is guaranteed to it by the peace treaties and by the Covenant of the League. Wherever the I.L.O. is represented they have diplomatic immunities which are largely the same as we have put in this Bill. I have been looking at instructions given to the staff of the I.L.O. by the Director of that organisation, and I would like to read the House a sentence from them because they have a bearing on this point:The Director can in no circumstances permit the use of these immunities for other than their legitimate purposes, and will have no hesitation in waiving them in every case where they constitute an obstacle to justified demands that do not affect the interests of the I.L.O.I am sure that any collection of Governments, working together, would be bound to act in that way and would be bound, in their own interests, to see that diplomatic privilege was not abused. In the case of subordinate officials the only immunity from legal process which they possess is in regard to the acts which they perform in the course of their official duties. Clearly, therefore, there can be no possibility of subordinate members of the organisations going to shops, running up terrific bills and not paying them, because it could not conceivably be argued that they were running up those bills in the course of their official duties.
But there is one type of case in which that could be argued, a case which was stressed repeatedly in the Debate recently, namely, that in conection with road traffic accidents. It was assumed that anyone with this privilege of immunity from suit in respect of official actions, who was 2094 driving on his official business or to keep an official appointment, and who knocked a person down, would he absolutely inviolate from the ordinary operation of our traffic laws, so that the unfortunate victim would have no redress. That is not the case. The facts are that we have an arrangement with the Diplomatic Corps in which the members of that Corps, or their chauffeurs driving them, are insured with an insurance company under the Road Traffic Acts, in the same way as any other persons. Liability to pay damages, if they fall due; thereby falls on the insurance company, and it is part of the arrangement made with the Diplomatic Corps and the insurance company that if it is necessary to have recourse to the courts in order to determine the question of liability, or the amount of damages, no diplomatic immunity shall be raised by the insured person or the insurance company to prevent the matter being decided. I, therefore, suggest that the misgivings expressed on this point will prove, in practice, to be without foundation, and that Members can rest assured that no injustice will be done to any British subject on this account.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
With regard to immunity from taxation, would individuals who benefit from this Bill be exempt from Purchase Tax on the purchases they might make?
§ Mr. Law
No, Sir. My hon. Friend has reminded me of something else which has a bearing on immunity from taxation. The House will observe that under Part II of the proposed Schedule to the Bill there is no immunity in regard to import duties on goods imported for the personal consumption of the high officer concerned. I do not want the House to be under any misunderstanding on this point, and I think I ought to explain the position: Generally speaking, we give to Diplomatic Representatives in this country permission to import, for their personal consumption, goods which have not paid duty. That is not a statutory right to those individuals; it is a courtesy which we extend to them and which, of course, we could withdraw if we thought fit to do so. Because no mention is made of that in 2095 this Bill, I would not like the House to think that we do not propose to go on with the existing practice, so far as the Diplomatic Corps is concerned, or that we do not intend, in the case of these few high officers, to give them the same privileges, provided that they were reasonably used and, of course, we would have ways and means of telling whether they were reasonably used or not. I am, therefore, grateful to my hon. Friend for his interjection, which reminded me of that point.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Would Purchase Tax have to be paid by Mr. Stalin, if he gave a present of cigars to the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Law
I cannot answer that. Let me now turn to the last main point raised in the Debate, the question of the time limit. In the Bill as it is drafted now, there is no time limit. It operates in perpetuity and we propose, if we get the Second Reading, to introduce on the Committee stage, Amendments which will ensure that Clause 1 of the Bill will last for five years and can be reviewed by Parliament at the end of that time. I know that some hon. Members would have liked to limit the operation of the Bill to the period of the emergency, but I think that would not have been a very good suggestion to accept. Most of these organisations will in fact only get into active operation when the emergency is passed.
I think I have given the House some solid argument proving the necessity of the Bill. I think we really ought to have it. It will greatly improve the efficiency of these organisations and greatly advance the object that we want them to achieve. The Government has not in any way resented the criticism that has been offered. That criticism has been searching, but I should like to make an appeal to the House. If they think they can let the Bill go through, without prejudicing the liberties of any British subject, I hope they will give us the Second Reading and give it as quickly as may be. I ask that not only because there is other business that the House wants to get on to, but because I do not think it would be a good thing that it should go out to the world that the British House of Commons is more grudging in its attitude towards international organisations than other countries are. It is common form to give 2096 these immunities to international organisations, and if the House is satisfied that the liberties of the subject are protected, I hope very much that they will give the Bill a Second Reading ungrudgingly and pass it as smoothly and rapidly as possible.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Could the right hon. Gentleman give some idea of the approximate number of international organisations likely to be covered by this Bill? Of course, the number would not be final because it could be added to later.
§ Mr. Law
That is an almost impossible question to answer because no one can say what the result of the Bretton Woods Conference is going to be. We do not yet know if the International Monetary Fund will come into existence or the Investment Bank. We have had a Conference at Hot Springs relating to an Organisation for Food and Agriculture and since then, there has been gestation and that organisation will almost certainly come into being and will certainly be included under the Bill.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward (Kingston-upon-Hull, North-West)
I am sure the House is very much indebted to my right hon. Friend for the statement he has made. He will probably find that the reception of the Bill will be a good deal less hostile than that which it met with when it first came before the House. But there are still one or two points that I should like to put to him for elucidation. He said the total number of high officers would not exceed seven or eight. Does he mean seven or eight heads of departments, or seven or eight high officers of all the departments? Because there might be a head of a department, holding a high office in addition. Furthermore, he has given us no indication of the number of people who are likely to acquire immunity under Part III of the Schedule which he proposes to introduce. Can he give a rough estimate of the total number of people likely to come under the Measure?[...] 2097 Of course the grant of diplomatic privileges is of very long standing, but circumstances are somewhat different to-day from what they were 40 or 50 years ago. In those days there was very little chance of an Ambassador, or a representative of a foreign country, doing injury to His Majesty's lieges here. My right hon. Friend spoke very scoffingly of foreign citizens driving recklessly about the King's highway murdering His Majesty's lieges. He also referred to a system of insurance which is in fact in operation to cover injuries of that kind. But may I remind him of a famous—perhaps I should say an infamous—case shortly before the war when the Secretary to the German Legation severely injured a British citizen on the road, and refused to pay any compensation whatever? There were other instances before the war of members of foreign Legations injuring citizens, who were advised by their solicitors to accept ludicrously inadequate compensation, because they were informed that cases could not be taken into court. If an insurance system is now in force, it alters the position almóst entirely, and I do not think one can reasonably object to diplomatic immunity being given.
At the same time I do not wish to see it too widely extended and it seems to me that, if it were possible to confine this diplomatic immunity to the high officers, and leave subordinate officials subject to the laws of the country, practically every objection that could be raised would be met. These high officials are, to all intents and purposes, in the position of ambassadors, and it is only right that every privilege should be afforded them. But to give those privileges to all and sundry—to the staff of those officers—seems to be going rather far. After all, they are entitled to use the highest-powered cars they can get, because there is no tax on them. They receive a licence free, gratis and for nothing. They are immune from taxation, they are immune from the speed limit, and they are immune from the regulations which British citizens have to observe in the use of petrol. Petrol is being brought to this country at the risk of seamen's lives, and it is only right that every one should use it with discretion. If we go to a fashionable golf course we see a number of cars and we find that nine out of ten of them belong to members of the Diplomatic Corps. They are using petrol for purposes for 2098 which a British citizen would not be allowed to use it. Although there is not the slightest objection to this diplomatic immunity being granted to heads of departments or high officials, it is a mistake to give it to all and sundry.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I think the House was right on 27th September in being very critical about the terms of the Bill. Two or three years ago, it gave almost unlimited immunity to members of the American Forces over here. I am not suggesting that it has not worked out well but there have been occasions when people have been injured and have not been able to obtain compensation, and it was only five or six months ago that the War Office was able to announce that an agreement had been reached by which the War Claims Commission settled claims on behalf of the American Government. I think that the House was perfectly right in being very chary about extending these diplomatic privileges. We are in the curious position to-day of being asked to give this Bill a Second Reading on the basis of a series of Amendments that are to be moved in Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman would not have been in Order in referring to those Amendments in detail in his speech in support of the Second Reading. I have not any doubt that the Government will proceed with those Amendments and that there will be no question of our giving the Bill a Second Reading and then finding that some of the Amendments are not being pressed.
I listened with great interest to the Attorney-General's speech, and the apologia with which he tried to persuade the House to give the Bill a Second Reading was to this effect—I may be misrepresenting him, and, if so, I am willing to withdraw—that these immunities are being given, but that they will not be relied on. That was the burden of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
I would not altogether accept that. The burden of my speech was that under international law and practice, the people covered by this Bill would be entitled to immunity, and the purpose of the Bill was to enable it to be controlled.
§ Mr. Bowles
The House ought to have this perfectly clear. This immunity resides in the person who is enjoying it, and although the Minister of State referred to 2099 the fact that, in certain circumstances, in the I.L.O. the Director-General could withdraw these privileges from one of his subordinates, I am not at all sure whether, in the case of even a subordinate in this country, who was receiving benefits under this Bill, another person could force him not to rely upon the immunity.
§ The Attorney-General
The immunity is the immunity of the sovereign State and, in a case of this kind, would rest in the head of the body. The individual can have the immunity waived without any right of objection. The immunity resides in the head, and it is the head who can waive it. Therefore, the Director-General of the I.L.O. would have complete power to waive the immunity in respect of a subordinate. Wherever the immunity resides, that person will have the right to say whether it should be waived.
§ Mr. Bowles
We also heard the right hon. Gentleman refer to motoring offences—I should not say offences, because we are concerned only with compensation, as people enjoying diplomatic immunity can commit all the crimes on the road without being subject to police court proceedings.
§ Mr. Bowles
In other words, he would be asked to give an undertaking that, if he might be found guilty of manslaughter, he would allow himself to be tried?
§ Mr. Bowles
So we are now to understand that the immunity is given with one hand, and taken away by somebody else's other hand, and that if one of these people commits a crime, or looks as if he had committed a crime, the head of his organisation will withdraw his immunity from legal process and let the man stand his trial. In other words, they seem to be pretty nearly as much subject to legal process as anybody else. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of motor insurance. That seems good news. I do not know how long it has been in operation, but the House will be very glad to hear it.
Suppose one of these gentlemen is guilty of uttering defamatory statements in the course of his work. After all, it is possible that a man can slander or libel some body of persons, not maliciously but quite seriously, and it may not be a true statement, and may be held to be defamatory. Is that person liable to be sued in the courts for damages for libel or slander as the case may be, assuming that he does it in his personal capacity, or in the course of his employment? It is possible for such cases to arise. I would like to have a further assurance that the rules which have been laid down by the I.L.O. for its staff, will apply to every organisation that takes up residence in this country.
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis (Colchester)
I must confess that I view this Bill with great uneasiness. The whole basis of individual liberty in this country rests upon the rule of law, the rule, that is, that with few exceptions everybody in this country, high or low, rich or poor, can go to the same courts to get redress in the event of suffering any injury. It is true that, like the ancient Romans, we have had to give up our liberties when we were engaged in a desperate struggle, and we did so in order to devote our whole energies to defeating the enemy. But I hope that, like the ancient Romans, we shall resume all those liberties when peace returns. I do not say that it will be an easy process. From observations dropped by Ministers of the Crown, it appears that there is the prospect of its being a lengthy process. At any rate, I hope we shall ultimately recover all the liberties we have willingly given up for the duration of the war.[...] 2101 This proposal, however, is something quite different. As the Minister of State pointed out, it is not something that arises now during the war, but something that will be effective after the war. It is, in effect, a proposal that an undefined number of persons should be put outside the rule of law permanently. I say "permanently" in spite of the intimation that the Government propose to limit the operaton of the Bill to five years, because, in the Amendment which the Government will propose, provision is made for its extension for an unlimited period afterwards. To my mind there is no doubt that the intention of the Government is that there shall be a permanent arrangement. I listened intently to the speech of the Minister of State, and I could not find in it anything that justifies the introduction of the Bill. I could not see the necessity of which he spoke. I do not know, even now, what organisations will be affected other than U.N.R.R.A. The right hon. Gentleman has given no list of organisations at present in existence which will be affected, and he obviously cannot forecast what organisations may arise in future that will come within the ambit of the Bill.
I think we can say that a considerable number of people will come under the Bill. It may be argued that, in the past, we ourselves have insisted on extra-territoriality for our citizens in some foreign countries, and an even wider extension of the idea of special privilege, but we have only done that in cases where the Government of the country was felt to be either uncivilised or ineffective, and we have agreed to give up these claims as soon as there was a Government sufficiently competent to ensure justice for our citizens overseas. Does anybody suggest that we have a system of law in this country which is so ineffective and so unjust, that any foreigner coming here needs protection against it? In regard to one or two of the points which the Minister of State made this morning I was particularly puzzled when, referring to Income Tax, he used an ingenious argument to show that there was really nothing in the idea that officials and employees of these organisations should pay Income Tax. Let me put this case to him. Suppose that U.N.R.R.A. employed two people, one a British subject resident in this country, and normally domiciled here, and the other a British subject not so domiciled. Suppose they did work of 2102 precisely the same character and were paid precisely the same salary. If the British subject domiciled here, were to pay Income Tax of 10s. in the £ and the British subject not so domiciled were not subject to that tax, one man would be paid only half what the other was getting for doing the same job. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to address his mind to that illustration when he comes to reply.
With regard to motor cars, the Minister of State spoke of the arrangements that have been made for insurance, to get over the difficulty of any person being unable to claim compensation for damage in case of such accidents, but what about liability to imprisonment? After all, when we pass laws governing the conduct of people who drive motor cars we put in penalties, including the penalty of imprisonment, in order to deter people from doing certain things. If those penalties are of value, and have any deterrent effect, they Should apply to everybody. If some people are immune from the imprisonment provisions, to that extent they are not deterred from doing foolish or dangerous things, in the way that people are deterred who are subject to these provisions. I would again ask the Minister of State to apply his mind to that specific point and tell me wherein the fallacy lies, if there be one.
The Minister not only asked us to give him the Bill—which I very much hope we shall not do—but to give him the Bill ungrudgingly. He thought it very undesirable that it should go out to the world that the British House of Commons were grudging where the privileges of these organisations were concerned. I think it would be most unfortunate if it went out to the world that the British House of Commons were grudging, when it came to defending the liberties of the British people.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
The action of this House some fortnight ago in asking the Government to reconsider a Bill which extended diplomatic. immunity to an unspecified number of persons, and did not lay down the kind of diplomatic immunity which was intended, was a wise one. The House is to be congratulated upon it. The Government also deserve credit for listening to its criticism, as they have done. They have put down a considerable number of Amendments which definitely react to 2103 those criticisms. The observations of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State this morning met, to my mind, ninety per cent., if not more, of the difficulties which confronted the House on the last occasion. I ask myself one or two simple questions. First, ought there to be diplomatic immunity at all? Is it an outworn idea which we ought to discard? A certain number of people think that that is the case. I am persuaded, however, that if there were no diplomatic immunity, we should have to invent it. Diplomats do not act in respect of their own personalities. They act in accord with the Governments who send them here. They are associated, not with personalities but with the political background, economic ideas, and cultural sentiments of a country. I think, as my right hon. Friend pointed out so dearly, that it would be the greatest possible mistake to allow a person, who is, as it were, an instrument through which policies are to be given effect, to be brought up and dealt with in a court of law. Therefore, I think we are all persuaded in this House that diplomatic immunity is necessary and desirable.
If it is necessary and desirable to give diplomatic immunity to a leader of a State and to the high officials of an embassy, clearly it must be equally desirable to give those facilities to an international organisation in which you have not only one State but other States represented. I would draw the attention of the House to the very remarkable fact that the application of the Bill depends upon whether or not the British Government are themselves associated with the international organisation concerned. If the British Government are not in those organisations, the Bill will not apply to them. Those two general points seem to me to cover pretty clearly paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause I (2), but they do not entirely cover paragraph (c), which deals with the minor officials. I think it would be out of Order to deal with this matter in any detail, but I would direct the attention of the Minister to the feeling in the mind of the House that too many of these minor officials may be included.
The Bill indicates that there will he a list, but I am concerned to notice that, in respect of the high officials, there is to be a list, while in respect of the minor officials there may be a list. I do suggest that it would be desirable at a 2104 later stage to make it clear that there is to be a list of the minor officials, which will be capable of examination just as much as the list of the major officials. If it is true—I do not think for a moment it is—that it is the intention of the Government that all these minor officials should be included, you might even have a doorkeeper among them. What an absurd situation it would be if the doorkeeper of U.N.R.R.A. were in a different situation from the doorkeeper of the Ministry of Health. I do not think it is intended, and I think we should have an assurance from the Minister on the point.
I know that the arrangements are to be reciprocal; that if they are not reciprocal we do not enter into them, and that they are to be limited to five years. The observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) on the question of the termination of the Bill were not quite to the point. The point is that, in five years' time, the operation of the Bill will conclude, but if the House of Commons at that time decides to continue the Bill it can do so, and it is right and proper that the Government should be given an opportunity to reconsider the matter. From that point of view I think the Government proposal is a good one and one which we ought to accept. I feel there was force in the appeal of my right hon. Friend that this House should show itself sympathetic to these international organisations. I would ask specifically whether the International Committee on Refugees is included within the ambit of the Bill, because it is an important organisation and ought, I think, to be included.
§ Mr. Hammersley
Summed up, my feeling is that this is a Bill to which the House ought to give a Second Reading, and I hope it will do so quickly.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I should like to associate myself with the speech of the hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley). I was present at the first discussion upon the Bill, and I think the House performed a very useful function in examining the Measure very carefully. After all, we attach importance to the rule of law, and any departure from it 2105 should be carefully considered. But I was amazed at the speech of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis). I have always understood from him that he is interested in international affairs and, I assume, wants to bring the nations together. At a time like this, when there is a prospect of the war coming to an end, and with the necessity for building up international machinery to deal with various problems, surely it is to our interest to be not less generous to organisations located here, or with branches here, than are other nations. I am concerned to note the large number of these organisations which now have their headquarters not, as in the past, in London but in other countries. London is the natural centre for international intercourse. It has a magnificent tradition in that respect, and if it is to be said that in future we will not welcome the establishment of such organisations here, or, if they come here, will treat the members worse than do other nations, denying them diplomatic immunities which it has always been the general custom to grant, we shall do this country no good and we shall inevitably give rise to the suggestion that this country, instead of being the centre of freedom, liberty and progress, is the centre of reaction. I think the speech of my hon. Friend was most unfortunate.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) is chairman of a refugees committee and that as its chairman he has been doing valuable work. It has been suggested that it should be removed to some other part of the world. Fortunately, to his credit, it is centred in London. That is one example of what I have been pointing out: to have it here is to our advantage from every point of view, political and economic. I think the Bill ought to have the blessing of this House though, if necessary, it should be amended in its details, because it is right for us to be careful to see that the machinery is on sound lines. We should also insist that the terms of the Bill should be reciprocal, that if we afford facilities to representatives of other countries they should accord equal facilities to any similar organisation, or its branches, set up in their countries. We ought to give the Bill a Second Reading and it ought to become law with as little delay as possible.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
I think the Government have been wise in their second thoughts on this Bill and I am prepared to give its Second Reading my completely ungrudging support, subject, as the right hon. baronet has just said, to the consideration of Amendmtnts on matters of detail during the Committee stage. I think, however, that a word of praise is due at this stage to the back benchers of the House for the vigilance they showed on the last occasion, when the Bill did not meet with the general approval which I think it will receive today. There are two Amendments which I feel ought to be considered and I will mention them now, because it will save time in Committee. One is the Amendment to insert a new Sub-section, Subsection (6), to say that Clause I shall remain in force for a period of five years. I think that both Clauses 1 and 2 should remain in force for five years, because if Clause 2 does not remain in force I do not think we can carry the Orders in Council. It is really a drafting Amendment. The other point is that Clause 2 provides for the negative procedure, so that an Order in Council comes into force unless there is a Prayer against it. Personally, I should prefer the positive procedure in a case like this. There cannot be very many organisations affected, and therefore there cannot be very many Orders in Council. I understand that a Select Committee is considering such points, and if it is subsequently decided that the positive procedure is appropriate in a case like this perhaps the Minister of State will give me an assurance that this Bill will be brought into line with the recommendations of the Select Committee, because it is important that this House should not lose sight of what Government Departments are doing.
I am glad to see Clause 4, because that infers equal treatment as between one country and another, and I hope that the Foreign Office will enforce it. There was a rather unfortunate case in which there was no reciprocity in my district, before the war. Kensington could not secure any contribution in lieu of rates in respect of a particular legation. It was not the Russian Legation, but I think it is better not to mention the legation concerned. It has always seemed a little hard that Kensington should have to 2107 suffer deprivation of rates in respect of quite a respectable house which was the home of the legation, whereas in other capitals we were making the appropriate contributions towards their expenses. Therefore, I hope the administration of this Clause will be purely reciprocal. I am prepared ungrudgingly to give this Bill a Second Reading. My right hon. Friend mentioned the word "ungrudgingly" and I entirely agree with what he said. I think it is most important that the House of Commons should show itself in sympathy with this treatment for delegations and organisations established here. The reverse side of the picture has not really been brought out so clearly in the Debate. The treatment of our nationals as members of international organisations overseas has been, on the whole, extremely good and not always according to the strict letter of the law. Normally speaking, we are hospitably received and extremely well treated, and I think it is only right that Great Britain—as I claim, the greatest nation in the world, as I hope it will be after the war, in spite of what has been said by others—should everywhere give the impression that it is a great nation.
The only thing I have been anxious to avoid is dishonest practices such as I am pretty well convinced did take place in the German, Italian and Japanese Embassies before the war, when they were used for totally improper purposes. I hope that sort of thing will never arise again. Most of the criticisms of the Bill in to-day's Debate have not really been so much against extending the principles of diplomatic immunity to international organisations as against diplomatic privilege itself. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir Lambert Ward) spoke about the motor cars of the Corps Diplomatique at golf courses. That is a criticism which may or may not he valid, but it does offer an opportunity to review the whole of these diplomatic privileges, and I hope the Foreign Office will take the opportunity of doing so as the result of the passing of this Bill, so that we shall play fair with other nations and see that they play fair with us.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I think there was some contention a short while ago as to the liability of foreign 2108 diplomats in criminal matters and the question was left in an uncertain position. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) asked about this and as he was speaking I tried to draw on my recollection. He might be interested in the fact that Cromwell himself actually executed an ambassador, but nothing happened. Another interesting story in that connection is that Peter the Great, when his ambassador was murdered in London, suggested that those who had been concerned should be executed at once. It ended, I believe, in the Act of Queen Anne's reign, which attempted to regulate matters of diplomatic privilege. But I think I am right in saying that criminal matters are not definitely covered by diplomatic privilege, that anything which is considered to be mala in se is not covered. Much as I instinctively dislike most statutory laws, I think it might be well to have an amending Statute to the Statute of Queen Anne, for the purpose of clearing up the whole question, especially as we are considering the legislation which we are undertaking to-day. The right hon. Gentleman made an appeal, which has already been referred to, that the House of Commons should not appear to be grudging in these matters. It was an extremely shrewd appeal on his part. This House of Commons in my opinion has been extremely ungrudging in all these matters, at any rate, ever since I have been here. Not only have we granted jurisdiction to the United States Army over their own soldiers while they are in this country, but also given them power to try cases of criminality involving British citizens. We have given extra jurisdiction to the Poles, Czechs and so on. Therefore, I think we have been very ungrudging, and I do not consider by right hon. Friend needed to make his appeal to us. If the House of Commons wants to protect its liberties and wants to see that something unusual is not being done, that, I submit, does not give occasion for hon. or right hon. Members to make observations of the kind we have heard.
The Bill as it is to be amended does a remarkable thing. Under the first Amendment it establishes a corporation endowed with diplomatic immunities and privileges under Part I of the Schedule and that I believe, has never been done before in the history of the British Parliament. It is all very well for the right 2109 hon. Gentleman to say that the corporation will voluntarily go to arbitration, but that is not stated in the Bill. It would be entirely a matter for the corporation or the Government concerned to say whether any particular case should go to arbitration. Normally, a corporation is, I think, defined by Statute, but these corporations are not defined by Statute, which is a point to be noted. Normally, I believe, a corporation is liable for torts committed by its servants acting within the scope of their authority even if the wrong was done by its servants in defiance of its express orders. A corporation is liable under our laws but this corporation is not liable at all in that regard. It is completely outside control. Lord Selborne, I believe, laid it down that a statutory corporation is for all practical purposes limited in all its powers by the purposes of its incorporation as defined by the Act. But there is no definition in regard to this Corporation. Its powers are in no way defined. We can say what we like about arbitration about liability for acts of the corporation as proposed by the Amendment put down by the Government, but there is no legal liability at all on the part of these people in respect of contracts entered into. I am sure that all the people responsible will be actuated by honourable motives, but nevertheless contracts are not enforceable in spite of that, and the injured party cannot sue and may suffer in a variety of ways. Even acceptances of bills of exchange are attended with no liability. I believe under Part III of the Schedule any acts of the servants of one of these corporations, however arbitrary, and even at times personal, can be claimed by the corporation to be done under its instructions, and therefore not attended with any liability. They might not take this line, but technically, I am sure I am right.
It may be said that the subject is no worse off in regard to the establishing of this corporation from immunity than he is in his relationship with the Crown. It may be said without due thought that it is comparable to the relationship of the subject to the Crown and that he will be in no worse position. But let us see how much better off the subject actually is in his relationship to the Crown. We all know that the King is not responsible for tortious acts. Indeed it has long been held, to quote the words of the court in a judgment of the last century: 2110The notion of making the Sovereign responsible for a supposed wrong tends to consequences which are clearly inconsistent with the duties of a Sovereign.As I have said, it would appear on the face of it that the subject would be in no worse position in regard to this corporation, but if the King commands an act to be perpetrated which is unlawful, the courts can try the complaint of the subject as if there has been no command by the King, so that an action would lie against the King's servants in respect of an unlawful act against an individual—there have been many cases which make this quite clear—but that will not occur with this corporation. A servant of this corporation will be completely covered under Part III of the Schedule. He may commit all sorts of illegal acts under the command of the corporation, but there will be no possibility of suing the servant himself as there would be when a subject is wronged by the Crown. It will not be liable for the acts of its servants, nor can the servant be sued for acting unlawfully. Again, in regard to contracts of the corporation there is no redress. It is interesting to turn once more to the position of the subject in relation to the Crown. Under the Petition of Right the subject can, if his goods, moneys or land have found their way into the possession of the Crown, by obtaining a fiat from the Attorney-General, ask for restitution or compensation; but if one of these trading organisations—and there will be several trading and other kinds of organisations—have got hold of lands, money or whatever it may be, the person affected has no remedy at all. By the Petition of Right he can recover money under a contract, or he can be awarded unliquidated damages for breach of a contract and so on, but in regard to his relationship with this corporation, or any corporation formed under the Bill, he has no power at all.
I think I have shown that we are adopting a new idea in this legislation. Indeed, I do not think in the whole statutory history of this county a Government has ever before suggested that a corporation, with hundreds of servants, should have diplomatic immunity. If the corporation says that a servant is acting under the instruction of the corporation there is no liability at all. There is no remedy for the aggrieved person, as the corporation is completely sacrosanct. It can, if it likes 2111 act in the most ruthless and savage way. It is said that it is not likely to do so. Nevertheless it is the corporation alone which decides when it will allow any arbitration proceedings. It is it that decides whether a subject of His Majesty has suffered to such a degree that damages should be given by it as a matter of honour alone. Although I shall not oppose the Bill, nevertheless, I cannot see why we in this House should not have a full discussion. I cannot say that the Bill has been remarkably improved, I do not think it has. On the contrary, I think it has introduced something hitherto completely unknown to the law of this land.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
As my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) was good enough to pay a tribute to it, I thank him for what he said about the organisation with which I am associated. I am officially affected by this Bill in respect of official duties which I discharge in my relationship with this body. Accordingly I have not thought it proper to speak for or against this Bill, but this is one point which I should like to have cleared up before we reach the Committee stage. Clause I (2 c) says:confer upon such other classes of officers and servants of the organisation (including British subjects …)",and then goes on to define what these privileges and immunities are. What would be the position—in which I find myself—of a Member of this House, or any of His Majesty's subjects who holds a post in such an organisation as chairman? Would he come within the description of "officers and servants"? If I may make a personal reference I would say that the answer is "No." But I should be in a most unfortunate position. Every one of my colleagues on the Committee, being diplomatic representatives, would come under the Clause. Any other British subject who was a servant of the organisation would come under the Clause. This is of some importance, because this Clause confers certain immunities in the way of making any action they take privileged. That might be most important, because the chairman might be directed by his organisation to write a letter which, under ordinary law, would 2112 be held to be libellous but would be privileged if written by any other member of the organisation. I should be glad if the point could be cleared up before the Committee stage—whether the term "officers and servants "includes members of the executive.
§ 12.39 P.m.
§ Mr. Law
It is only with the permission of the House that I can intervene again, but it may be convenient if I try, briefly, to reply to some of the points which have been raised in this Debate. With regard to the point which has just been made by my Noble Friend, the problem he has posed is certainly, as he described it, a very complicated one. It is beyond my powers to give a "snap" decision on it, but we will look into it between now and the Committee stage. The hon. and gallant Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) asked me one or two specific questions. He asked for further information about the high officers who would get these personal immunities of which I spoke earlier. In the case of U.N.R.R.A. the type of officer we have in mind is the Director-General or the Deputy Director-General.
My hon. and gallant Friend asked too what were the number of subordinate officers involved. In the case of U.N.R.R.A., which is of course a very big organisation, probably bigger than any other likely to be created. I believe there are in London something like 150 officials. My hon. and gallant Friend will, no doubt, think that is a large figure, and indeed it is. He went on to say that it would be very desirable to leave these subordinate officers without any kind of legal immunity. I gather that his point of view, generally speaking, was that he saw the case for the organisation having these immunities, and for the very few high officers having these immunities, but he did not quite see the case for all the subordinate officers having them. Perhaps I could make that clear to him now. I think the House was satisfied by my argument that it would be undesirable for actions that are really in their nature political, to be brought in the courts against an organisation of this kind. Clearly, unless the servants of the organisation are included in that immunity, the protection we are giving to the organisation is completely illusory, because if protection is given to the 2113 organisation and no protection is given to the servants of the organisation, what happens is that a malicious person cannot bring an action against the organisation, so he brings an action against one of the officials of the organisation. He can then make all the political points, and do all the political damage he would have been able to do by bringing an action against the organisation itself.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) rather resented the appeal I made to the House to give this Bill an ungrudging assent. I can reassure him on one point. If he will read my words he will see that the appeal was not made to him. I said that if hon. Members felt they had been convinced by my arguments, they should give the Bill an ungrudging assent. It is fairly clear to me that he at any rate has not been convinced by my arguments. Therefore the appeal did not lie with him. His main point was that here we are creating a position in which a vast number of people are outside the rule of law. I would ask him to consider what I said earlier. There is and always has been, a distinction between immunity from legal process and standing outside the rule of law. In fact, the practice has always been—and if that had not been the practice diplomatic privilege could not have lasted—that a man who receives diplomatic immunity, is not, therefore, relieved of an obligation to obey the ordinary law of the land. The hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley) asked me what the position of the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees would be under this Bill, and whether it would come under it. The answer is that it would certainly be possible to apply the Bill by Order in Council to the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees.
The hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) raised a point on Clause 2 of the Bill on the question of the affirmative or negative Resolution. That is a point which really is not concerned with this Bill as such, and if he will forgive me I will not comment on it at this stage. The Government will present its comments when the Bill comes up on Committee stage. I would hate it if my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. Rùissell Thomas), or any other Member of the House were to assume that, because I asked the House to give the Bill an ungrudging assent, I 2114 implied that the House had been grudging in the past, about this or any other matter. The House has not been grudging; and, as I said earlier, the criticisms which Members have expressed on this Bill have been extremely useful. But I continue to hope that the House will now give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Law
I must apologise to my hon. Friend that it slipped my mind. My hon. Friend faced me with a dilemma. He said, "If you had in an organisation a British subject ordinarily resident here, he would pay Income Tax, while another British subject, not ordinarily resident here, in the same organisation, would not pay Income Tax. Would not that create unfairness and inequality between those two British subjects within the organisation?" The answer really is this. We in this House are interested in protecting the Treasury and seeing that people are not dodging taxes, and we are interested also in seeing that British subjects do not have their civil liberties taken away. There is nothing against a man's liberty in the fact that two men in the same office have the same job at different rates of pay—I think the most one would say is that it is an indication of a not very well run office. I am quite sure that an office, whatever it was, that was placed in a position of that kind, would find ways and means, internally, of equalising the position.
§ Mr. Bowles
Will the right hon. Gentleman's reply on the Committee stage ensure that the waiver which these organisations will give, so far as diplomatic privileges are concerned, will apply to criminal proceedings and all torts other than insurance?
§ Mr. Law
No, Sir, I do not think it would be possible to introduce such a sweeping Amendment into the Bill, nor do I think it would be in the least degree necessary. We must surely assume that this organisation, to which, after all, we ourselves belong, will behave with a reasonable degree of common sense and honour If it does not, there are plenty of remedies in our hands; and my hon. Friend need be under no apprehension we should certainly use them.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Beechman.]
§ Committee upon Wednesday.