HC Deb 24 October 1944 vol 404 cc135-40
The Attorney-General

I beg to move, in page 3, line 12, after "under," insert, "Sub-section one or Sub-section two of."

This is to meat the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence).

5.3 p.m.

Sir H. Williams

As far as I can make out, this is a good Amendment, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend in meeting the point I hope that this Bill will be a lesson to him and to his colleagues that they must not be led astray so often when they go to watering places like Hot Springs and other pleasant spots in the United States. When they go to these places they are a little too ready to agree to things. In this Bill they have learned their lesson. This House can be a very awkward place when Members of the Government agree too readily to things at conferences in pleasant places in America.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Lewis (Colchester)

As one who has had occasion to criticise this Bill rather severely, and as one who still has considerable misgivings as to what will happen under it, I would like to say how much I appreciate the way the Minister of State and the Attorney-General have listened to the arguments that have been put before them and tried to understand and meet them as far as they could. I appreciate that they were both working ender a difficulty, because the issue was to some extent prejudged before it came to the House. We are really being asked to implement something which the Government had already agreed to assuming that we would assent to it. That has made it difficult for them to meet the various objections. that have been raised. They have done their best, and I would venture the opinion that the Bill as amended is undoubtedly a better Bill than when it was first put before us. I hope that the misgivings which some of us have expressed as to difficulties which may arise under the Bill will prove to be, as the Minister has confidently said they will be, unjustified by events. I hope that the difficulties we foresee will not arise. Time alone will show who was right.

5.7 p.m.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

As I indicated at an early stage of the Bill, I am, owing to the duties I semiofficially do for the Government, affected by this Bill, and I have, therefore, thought it right not to take part in the discussions. I think it is a reasonable Bill, and I only rise for the purpose of saying that, though I have disagreed with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) on the Bill, I agree with the point he enunciated at an earlier stage. I venture with respect to say to the Government that they should be extremely cautious in this and in all other external matters in coming to agreement with Allied Governments without having previously ascertained what are the views of this House. I can foresee that, if they do not do so, there might arise at some future crate a serious political crisis which might affect our relations with our Allies. Therefore, I hope that in future the House will be fully consulted before any agreement is reached with a foreign Government.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)

The Bill has been very much revised by the discussions we have had, but it is still a Bill which the House does not welcome. The discussions have shown the Government that Bills of this kind ought to be far more carefully considered before they are brought to the House. The fact that we are now allowing a Bill to go forward which none of us welcome, a Bill which is full of difficulties, many of which have not been reconciled by the Amendments we have adopted, shows that it is important that the Departments concerned should look afresh at the whole of the problem of diplomatic immunity. Seeing that in the days to come there will be an increase in the number of international organisations with offices in this country, the whole problem should now be the subject of international consultation or consultation between our own Government and other Governments. We part with the Bill feeling very unhappy about it. Many of our difficulties have not been met, but the treatment which the House has given to the Bill will have a salutary effect on the Government so that in future Bills will be thoroughly well considered before the House is asked to deal with them.

5.10 p.m.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

With a part of what has just been said, I agree. It is right and proper that the House of Commons should carefully examine Bills of this character that affect the liberties of the people and the rule of law. The House of Commons does right to discharge its duty, and as a result the Bill has undoubtedly been improved. I take exception, however, to the suggestion that this is not a good Bill. It is a very necessary Bill. We have to be realists. We are living in a changing world, and if the new order is to work there must be international co-operation. It must be as easy for the representatives of other nations to live in this country, as for our representatives at conferences elsewhere. We do not want it to be said that London is the worst place to have an international organisation. Some of the speeches made make me think that if those hon. Members had their way that result would be brought about. I want to give my blessing to the Bill, and to the Minister of State for his patience in listening to criticism, his willingness to meet those criticisms in a reasonable way and, at the same time, his determination that the Bill should become an Act of Parliament.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. Law

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) for the observations which fell from him a few moments ago. He had misgivings about the Bill, but he has managed to overcome them, and for that I am very grateful. He is prepared to give the Bill a chance. He said that it is a better Bill now than it was when it first came before us for Second Reading. I do not dissent from that at all. I hope that most Bills that come before this House are better Bills when they leave it than when they first came into the House. That, after all, is what the House of Commons is for. My Noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) gave me a warning which, of course, I shall heed.

Earl Winterton

It was a very friendly one.

Mr. Law

Yes, it was a very friendly warning. The only comment I shall make is that my Noble Friend described the Bill as an innovation. That is not entirely true. The only thing that the Bill does is to try to clarify what is, and has for some years become, an international practice.

I was a little baffled, like the right hon. member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), by the observations of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones), who seemed to constitute himself for the moment into a sort of Leader of the House, when he has hardly been here all day. He drifted in at the last moment and, on whose authority I know not, said that no Member of the House of Commons welcomed the Bill. I do not really think he is justified in saying that. A number of hon. Members have had misgivings about the effects of the Bill, but I hope that the whole House of Commons is agreed that we want to do everything in our power to give these international organisations a fair chance to do an efficient job of work. That is the spirit in which the House of Commons should approach this Measure and not, if I may say so, the spirit which the hon. Member for Shipley voiced a few moments ago.

I can assure the House that the Government are pledged to support these organisations and that they will do everything they can to make that support a reality. Equally I can assure the House that the Government will do nothing, in giving support to these organisations, to prejudice the liberties of British subjects. On the contrary, the whole purpose of organisations of this kind, organisations of international co-operation, is not to curtail the liberty of British subjects—or indeed of anybody else—but rather to increase the total sum of human liberty.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.

Forward to