HC Deb 24 October 1944 vol 404 cc94-118

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 9, leave out paragraph (c).—[Mr. Lewis.]

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the word 'such,' in line 13, stand part of the Clause."

2.31 p.m.

Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)

When we terminated our discussion on this Amendment on the previous occasion, I did not feel that the Government had made themselves clear on all the points, and I do not feel that up to the present they have in any way adequately convinced the Committee of the necessity for the paragraph which it is sought to delete by the Amendment. They certainly explained what they intended to do but they did not appear to have made the case that it is necessary, or to explain in any detail that it is necessary. The second point on which I do not feel that they gave adequate satisfaction is on the question of tax. Personally I remain unconvinced by the argument put forward by the Minister. His suggestion that because this country made a contribution of some sum towards an organisation it was therefore not desirable that some proportion of that sum should be deducted on account of tax was unconvincing. There must be very few Votes passed by this House which do not involve payment to various servants, who obviously, afterwards have to submit to a deduction of tax.

I have no desire in any way unnecessarily to prolong the discussions on this Bill in Committee. If, as I rather suspect to he the case, the Government have to some extent committed themselves in international arrangements, we have no desire to do otherwise than to try and facilitate them. If we could get some undertaking iron the Government that the Measure will remain in force for a limited period, it would remove some of the objections. It would enable us to submit to those objections, with the right later on to find out how the Bill worked out and what the need for it really was, and then to decide, at a later time, whether it was necessary to carry into effect some of the Amendments which some of us have proposed at the present time. I would be out of Order in referring in any detail to subsequent Amendments, but I might perhaps be allowed, with an intention and desire to shorten the proceedings, to refer to an Amendment to the effect that the Bill should not be prolonged for more than a period of five years. I ask the Government whether it would be considered possible, on the Report stage, to accept an Amendment of this kind, as that would dispose of the objections we are now discussing.

The Deputy-Chairman

Had we not better wait until we come to that and deal with the point later?

Sir I. Albery

My difficulty is—without going into any detail—to let the Minister know that the kind of Amendment which I suggest might save the trouble of putting down Amendments of a consequential nature. It would help greatly if on Clause 6, in page 4, line 43, an Amendment were inserted as follows: This Act shall remain in force for a period of five years, beginning with the date of the passing of this Act, and shall then expire. That would mean that at the end of five years, when we have had experience of the working of the Act, the Government would have gained knowledge as to whether it was necessary or whether the privileges proposed are necessary and the House of Commons would definitely have the opportunity if they so desired of amending the Measure.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery), do not want to delay the Government in proceeding with this matter at all, if we can possibly avoid it. But I think the Committee should carefully consider this Amendment. I would like to refer to the point I made on the last occasion, which my right hon. Friend endeavoured to answer during the discussions on the Amendment. I said that officers or servants of U.N.R.R.A. might be in a privileged position and that the corporation might improperly afford them protection under this Bill. I said that a man having an accident, say, in the ordinary way, the corporation might come to his rescue and say that the act was done under their command or suggestion and that therefore he should have diplomatic immunity and not be liable.

The Minister's reply in my opinion was not quite satisfactory. He said that I was wrong, and proceeded to say that even if officials acted outside the corporation's instructions it would be a matter for a court to decide whether they were entitled to diplomatic immunity. I agree and I accept that. The Attorney-General followed that up and said that all that would have to be done would be for the servant to go to court and produce an affidavit to that effect, which would have to be satisfactory to the court. The question would be decided by the court. That may be so, but actually, it is only a mere formality, for the corporation decides who is to have such an affidavit. No one can tell the corporation what to do. There are no rules governing the corporation. If the corporation decided to give a servant an affidavit, saying that the servant acted under instructions and was entitled to immunity, the court actually would have nothing to say about it. It would be a decision, surely, that the court would be bound to make. But the civilian is put to double inconvenience. A British citizen, therefore, has to find out first whether an official is entitled to immunity and to undertake formal proceedings. He is practically bound to do this and should the court say that the official was not entitled to immunity, which is very unlikely, he would have to proceed in the ordinary way to claim damages.

As I say, the reply of the Minister of State was not, in my opinion, therefore, satisfactory. Immunity can be extended to a servant of the corporation to all intents and purposes as much as the corporation wishes. We all trust, of course, that the corporation will act honourably. We have a comparable position under the Habeas Corpus Act which has not been rescinded. In taking proceedings with regard to Habeas Corpus, in most cases the court has little power under that Act on ac- count of the existence of Regulation 18B. I do not think that we are wasting our time in bringing up these points. In spite of the explanation of the Minister of State, U.N.R.R.A., in certain circumstances will—and it is only human that they should—come along and say that in a particular case they extend their protection and an affidavit will be granted. It is remarkable to me that this Bill, which originated in another place, should come down to this House in this way because we are told that in another place they discuss things in—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member really cannot go into that.

Dr. Russell Thomas

I have made my point.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member should not have made it.

Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)

This Amendment is to delete paragraph (c) so as to remove from the provisions of the Bill the subordinate officials of the international organisation. Clearly it would be wrong to remove from the scope of the Bill completely the subordinate officials. It would be impossible to give the international organisation the immunity that it requires, it subordinate officials could be summoned by the processes of law, and the international association could have political matters brought before it. There are certain points in connection with these subordinate officials which require to be watched. It may be that, at a later stage, these matters will have to be settled, but it would be wrong to delete this particular paragraph, and I cannot support any proposal to delete it.

2.45 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friends for the spirit in which they have spoken, and I do not want to do what they have refrained from doing, and that is to delay the Committee. But I will say a few words on the chief points raised under this paragraph. Taxation, which though dealt with in detail in the proposed Schedule, really comes under this Sub section, and it may be convenient if I say a word or two about it and then we need not have the general principles discussed over again on the Schedule. I agree that it is a question that wants to be considered. Our representatives in foreign countries are always given this immunity.

It would seem natural, therefore, that the representatives of a group of nations should enjoy the same immunities as are enjoyed by the representatives of one. But the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) said it is not quite the same because our representatives, where-ever they go, from China to Peru, are liable to British Income Tax and it may be that the representatives of other countries are liable to their national taxation. An international organisation like this, however, such as the League of Nations and I.L.O., has always been in exactly the same position as will arise under this Bill. They cannot very well have their own special Income Tax. Therefore the only question would be, should they be subject to local taxation in the various countries to which they go? That would certainly be unusual and would create great difficulties. Our Ambassadors and Secretaries know that, wherever they go in the world, the incidence of taxation will be the same, namely British. If you tax the representatives of an international organisation locally, wherever they go, the spendable proportion of their emoluments will, of course, depend entirely on where they are at any given time, and that will be difficult to work out.

Mr. Lewis (Colchester)

Is that not true of every great trading organisation which sends representatives all over the world?

The Attorney-General

I do not think so. For one thing, there are not many trade organisations like international organisations, which send a man one year to one country and one year to another. These people move about all the time. Then, I think, we have to reinforce it by the argument which my hon. Friend used the other day—

Mr. Pethick - Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman please address the Chair?

The Attorney-General

Certainly I will. The argument used was that in a sense each country by taxing these people to ally would be drawing back part of what it had put into the pool. Supposing there was an international organisation with four foreign Governments, A, B, C and D, all contributing their quota to it, and the officials to be taxed were nearly all in country A. In that case country A would get the benefit of the taxation of a fund to which all four had contributed equally. I agree that, as was said the other day, it appears somewhat anomolous, but I believe if my hon. Friends and others in the Committee will think it out, it really is the most sensible arrangement for the various nations composing an international body of this kind to adopt with regard to the disposal of their funds.

With regard to the other point about immunity in respect of official acts, I accept, and respectfully agree, with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas). If we agree, as the Committee does, to grant immunity to the organisation, it follows that we must grant immunity in respect of official acts to those who are responsible for its administration. As my right hon. Friend explained, however, that will not be taken down to the doorkeeper and the liftman, but will apply only to those responsible for its administration. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment said that to some extent this matter has been negotiated, and indeed has had to be negotiated by our representatives with foreign countries on these lines. He said that in those circumstances he and his friends did not wish to embarrass the Government in regard to playing their part and in conceding to others what others are conceding to the organisation. I am grateful for that, and so is my right hon. Friend. We do not complain in the least of the points that have been raised, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton that it is right and valuable that matters of this kind should be scrutinised by this Committee.

My hon. Friend made a tentative allusion to Amendments which come later on the Paper. I hope he will be satisfied if my right hon. Friend agrees to accept what he has put on the Order Paper as the solution of this problem. That would be, not that the Act expires after five years, but, if his Amendment commends itself to the Committee, that the renewal will be limited to five years. I should think that would be satisfactory. After all, five years hence the House will have had experience of how this thing works, and if it has worked hardship or injustice the House will, no doubt, refuse to renew it. I very much hope that though I may not have wholly convinced my hon. Friends, they will not press the Amendment.

Mr. Hammersley

Could I ask you, Mr. Williams, on a point of Order, whether a manuscript Amendment—the effect of which would be to cause a list to be made of the subordinate officials as well as a list of the superior officials—would be in Order and whether it would be called?

The Deputy-Speaker

I presume that would be in Order, when we reach that point.

Amendment negatived.

The Minister of State (Mr. Richard Law)

I beg to move, in line 13, leave out from "Order," to end of line 22, and insert: to such extent as may be so specified, the immunities and privileges set out in Part III of the Schedule to this Act: Provided that the Order in Council shall not confer any exemption from taxes or rates upon any person who is a British subject and whose usual place of abode is in the United Kingdom. This Amendment is in part consequential upon an Amendment which I moved earlier during the Committee stage, the effect of which was to bring the immunities which might be granted under this Bill within the limits defined by the proposed Schedule. Therefore I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything on that part of the Amendment. The second part, however, introduces what, on the face of it, seems to be a new point. By this Amendment it is laid down that the taxation exemptions of Part II and Part III of the Schedule will not apply, that is, the Order in Council will not apply to a person who is a British subject and whose usual place of abode is in the United Kingdom. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend made it clear on Second. Reading that it was the intention of the Government operating this Bill that British subjects ordinarily resident here should be excluded from these particular provisions. However, it did not appear on the face of the Bill, and it is the purpose of this Amendment simply to lay down in black and white what was the intention of the Government and what, it is quite evident, is the desire of the Committee.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

If a person receiving this immunity drives a motor car and knocks a civilian down, what will be his position under this Clause—in a case where an ordinary court of law would grant damages? Will he be altogether immune from any case being taken to the court, or will there be some protection for the citizen who gets knocked down?

Mr. Law

I dealt with this point at some length at an earlier stage in the proceedings, but I do not think my hon. Friend was present at the time. The position is that the claim of a civilian knocked down in the street, as in the case suggested by my hon. Friend, would be fully safeguarded. It is quite clear that the case would come before the courts in the ordinary way and it would be arranged with the organisation concerned, and with the insurance company with which that organisation insured for the purposes of the Road Traffic Acts, that diplomatic immunity could not be claimed in such a case, the offender would have to pay up, and the victim would be fully compensated.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Hammersley

I beg to move, in page 2, line 27, leave out "paragraph (b)" and insert "paragraphs (b) and (c)."

The purpose of this Amendment is to put the individuals who are covered under paragraph (b)—that is the high officials, and the individuals who are covered under paragraph (c), that is to say, the subordinate officials—in precisely the same category in this respect, that it will be the duty of the Secretary of State to prepare a list. The Bill as it appears says, in effect, that with respect to the higher officials the Secretary of State must prepare a list, and in respect of the subordinate officials, he may prepare a list. My contention is that it is desirable that a list should be prepared in all cases. We have agreed that the subordinate officials should be exempt from legal process and from Income Tax. I think it must be clear that there must be some dividing line as to what status of person comes within the ambit of these privileges. It has never been the intention of the Government to bring persons of the status of mere servants into its ambit, and I feel that if the Foreign Office have the responsibility of preparing and scrutinising a list of this kind they will be able to see that the list is a proper list, that it does not go too far down the scale, that we shall not be giving immunity from Income Tax and from legal process to people of the category of doorkeepers and so forth. I hope, therefore, that the Government will see fit to accept this Amendment, which puts upon the Foreign Office the responsibility of preparing a list and, in so doing, scrutinising that list. I feel the Committee would not be doing its duty if it left the thing at large and if there were no dividing line.

3.0 p.m.

Sir I. Albery

I support what my hon. Friend has said. It seems to me very desirable that those persons who are to enjoy these exceptional privileges should be clearly defined. The arguments in favour of it have already been put by my hon. Friend and I am not going to repeat them, but I would ask the Minister, or the Attorney-General, when they reply, if they will kindly explain why it is that in the one case they have used the word "shall" and in the other case "may." We have had on former occasions, on different Bills, discussions over the use of this word "may," and in spite of all those discussions I am afraid that I, myself, probably in company with many other hon. Members of this Committee, still remain in somewhat of a fog over what the Government really mean when they use the word "may."

Captain Duncan (Kennington, North)

I am not quite sure of the full import of this Amendment. I understand that under Sub-section (2), paragraph (a), the Foreign Office should be, asked to compile a list, and I have no doubt they will, but the point in paragraph (b) is that this list, having been compiled, should be published for all concerned to read. That is all right, but if there are to be hundreds of names in the three "Gazettes" it seems to me to be quite stupid. Further, by paragraph (c) the name of whoever is ceasing to have or begins to be entitled to immunity must also be inserted, by an amendment in the list. I can imagine, with the enormous number of changes in minor officials in the various Embassies and international organisations like U.N.R.R.A., that these amendments will be so chaotic as to be unable to be followed intelligently by anybody except the man who is compiling the list and amendments. I am prepared to accept the wording on the understanding that the Foreign Office keeps a list itself.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I would like to ask my right hon. Friend if he would indicate how the matters referred to in this Amendment are dealt with at the present time with regard to Ambassadors and their staffs visiting this country, and also what was the practice in regard to the League of Nations. Personally, I think we ought to do everything possible to facilitate the coming to this country of a new world organisation and those other organisations that will be linked up with it. Unless we do so they will not come here, and while we must properly pay due regard to excess of privileges we ought, if we possibly can, to make things reasonable and to act in the same way as other countries are doing to the same persons when they go there, and as we ourselves have been treated in the past by foreign States.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

Privileges for foreigners, but not for Britons. I should like to ask the Attorney-General if he will interpret the words "shall" and "may" in this Subsection. Normally, when the word "may" appears we know the Act is conferring an enabling power on a Minister to do something, and, having enabled him to do it, it is his duty to do it. But when, under the same paragraph, we find "shall" and "may," then "may" means what the man in the street understands it to mean—an option, not an order. We want to know why this option is given.

Mr. Law

I fully understand the intention of my hon Friend the Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley) in moving this Amendment, and I fully sympathise with him in that intention. His purpose is to ensure that the powers which are given under this Bill are not abused and that a situation does not arise in which every single person, whether he is a lift-boy, a door-boy, or anybody, can be brought into the scope of these immunities. He suggests that he will be content, and the Committee will be content, if the Foreign Office demanded a list of the people who were subject to these immunities so that they could keep some kind of check upon what was being done. There is, I think, great force in my hon. Friend's argument, but we are up against the difficulty to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) drew attention, and that is, that under the Bill not only has the list to be prepared, but it has to be published in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast "Gazettes," and every single amendment to the list has to be published also. It seems to me that that would be imposing quite a considerable burden upon the Foreign Office and upon other Departments, and would entail a considerable amount of administrative work which, personally, I would not like to impose upon them unless I thought it was really necessary.

I do not think, in this case, that it is absolutely necessary, and I will try to give the Committee the reasons why I say that, and, in doing so, perhaps, I can deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) and the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) as to what is intended by the difference between "may" and "shall" in paragraph (a) of Sub-section (3). The reason for the difference is this. The persons entitled to immunity under paragraph (b) are entitled to full diplomatic immunity. That is to say they can go into a shop and order shirts and cigars, or anything else they like—[An HON. MEMBER: "And not pay for them."] It is, obviously, in the interests of the community that the shopkeeper concerned should know that his customer has got diplomatic immunity as, otherwise, he is in a false position. For that reason, people with full diplomatic immunity are listed, as we propose in paragraph (a) of Sub-section (3). But with regard to the people who come under paragraph (c) the only kind of immunity they can have is in relation to their official acts. Therefore, anybody with whom they are dealing in an official capacity must know that they are privileged official persons because that is the only reason why they are doing the business at all, and so it is not so necessary to make a list of those whose immunity only covers their official actions.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked me what the practice was with the Diplomatic Corps. The practice as regards the Diplomatic Corps is precisely that which is laid down under this Sub-section. That is to say, diplomats who have full diplomatic immunity are listed, and the lists are pub- lished, but consuls, who do not have full diplomatic immunity, who have only diplomatic immunity in respect of their official acts, are not listed. It must be assumed that anyone dealing with them officially must know that they are acting in their official capacity. So we are proposing here what is the practice now in the other field. I suggest to my hon. Friends and the Committee that we should pay some attention to the administrative side of this matter, and that we should not impose an additional burden upon the Department unless it is necessary. We will watch the position very carefully, and if our attention is drawn to any abuse of the powers under this Bill we shall avail ourselves of the power under Subsection (3) (a) and, by administrative action, convert "may" into "shall." I hope my hon. Friend will feel that the burden of his point can be met by that, and will not press his Amendment.

Mr. Lewis

In order that we may understand the effect of this Amendment we must try to understand the effect of the Clause as it is drafted. The Clause says: may compile a list of the persons entitled to immunities and privileges conferred under paragraph (c) of that Sub-section. Would the Attorney-General kindly tell us what difference it would make if those words were left out? Surely the Foreign Office can compile any list they like.

The Attorney-General

If the list procedure is used it exclusively defines those who are entitled to rely on one or the other immunity.

Sir I. Albery

Even taking into account the explanation which has been given by the Minister, I still find myself far from clear. First, we are told that the word "may" is put in with the idea that the Government can, at their discretion, compile these lists. We are told that subordinate officials have no privileges which would be affected by publication of a list. As I understood him the Minister said that higher officials could buy shirts, cigars or whatever it might be, on the plea of diplomatic privilege, and it was, therefore, desirable that a list should be made and published in the "London Gazette" to show tradespeople the kind of person with whom they were dealing. When we come to paragraph (c), under which a list may he made, we are told that these privileges do not appertain to these people, that they are not exempt. We are told that the Minister has put "may" into the Bill in case these people should do things which they are not able to do. I cannot see what he would effect by making a list. We do not want a list at all, and "may" ought not to have been put into the Bill. The Minister has said, "Although they have no privileges we reserve the right to make a list, and if they abuse the privileges they have not got we can take action" I fail to see the argument.

Sir H. Williams

The Minister of State has opposed the Amendment chiefly on the ground that it would cause a lot of work. But there can only be a lot of work if there are a lot of people. That is what I do not like. He has declared that there will be so many people under Part III that it will he burdensome to the Foreign Office to keep "tabs" on them. That is very disturbing. What is the immunity? Supposing a business man is sent for by U.N.R.R.A., who say to him that they want to buy so many pairs of boots. He will not know whether the man he is talking business with comes under Part III or not. He can only know if a list is published. If it is contemplated that this list will be so large we shall introduce a large privileged class, in fact a class as numerous as the Liberal National party.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Hammersley

I agree that my Amendment as it is worded does not really carry out my intention, which was to see that the Foreign Office had a list which would cover people who would be given these immunities. When the explanation was given that it would be a bad thing to do that because, if they compiled a list, they would be under the necessity of publishing it, and also publishing any alterations to it, I wondered why they had been given this power to make a list at all. It would appear that by putting in the words "may compile a list" the Government have merely put up a facade. There was no intention to make such a list and, that being so, the Committee ought to consider the situation. Why should there not he control of some character? I would be satisfied if the Minister would say that this method of dealing with what is required is not adequate, is administratively impossible and that it is not necessary to publish lists of people who are merely given consular privileges. That I can understand. But then that ought to be followed by a willingness to insert words in the Bill, or give an undertaking to the Committee, to ensure that the Foreign Office would be in possession of such a list. I think it would be quite wrong for us to give this consular immunity at large, and I press my right hon. Friend to give the Committee some assurance, as I have suggested. If that assurance can be given I would be prepared to withdraw my Amendment.

Mr. Law

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for what he has said. If his difficulty can be met by giving the undertaking for which he has just asked I give him that assurance now.

Sir I. Albery

I do not want to make difficulties, but it appears to me that the Bill as at present drafted is not accurate. There is no point in putting into it certain words which have no meaning, which cannot be carried out, and which nobody has any intention of carrying out. I think it would be better if the undertaking which the Minister has just given could be inserted into the Bill on the Report stage.

Mr. Law

I think my hon. Friend is doing less than justice to the Bill when he complains that it is inaccurately drafted and that the latter part of Sub-section (3) (a) is unnecessary in the light of the explanations I have given. I do not think that the final sentence in paragraph (a) is unnecessary. It constitutes a sanction in reserve. It is our intention that these immunities shall be limited, among the subordinate officers and servants of the organisation, to those people to whom it is necessary to give these immunities in order to make the organisation function satisfactorily. I have given the undertaking that the Foreign Office will ask for a list of the people who are getting these immunities and discuss with the organisations concerned the necessity for them. If we remove these words on the ground that they are redundant, our action must stop at that. We can only make our representations to the organisation and, if the organisation refuses to pay attention to them, we have no power under the Bill to make them do anything else; but, as long as we have these words in, if we do not get satisfaction at the first stage we can proceed a stage further and compile a list which can be published, and only those on the list will have immunity.

Sir I. Albery

I do not think I have made myself clear. I was suggesting that the words in the Bill do not seem adequately to carry out the intention but, if they were removed, that adequate words should be put in to implement the undertaking my right hon. Friend has given, words to the effect that not only shall there be a list of senior officials under paragraph (a) or (b) but, in addition, there shall be in the Foreign Office, without the necessity of publishing it in the "Gazette," a list of those who enjoy privileges under paragraph (c).

Mr. Hammersley

I am satisfied. The Minister has given an assurance that there will be a list, and the existence of that list will make it possible for paragraph (a) to become a reality.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 3, line 4, insert new Sub-section (5) Where privileges and immunities are conferred under paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) of Sub-section (2) of this Section upon any organisation or person, Section seventy-eight of the War Damage Act, 1943 (which relates to the payment of contributions in respect of property owned by a foreign State or the Sovereign or envoy of a foreign State) shall apply to that organisation or person in like manner as it applies to a foreign State or the envoy of a foreign State."—[Mr. Law.]

Mr. Law

I beg to move, in page 3, after the words last added, add: (6) This Section and the next following Section shall remain in force for the period of five years beginning with the date of the passing of this Act and shall then expire: Provided that, if at any time while the said Sections are in force an Address is presented to His Majesty by each House of Parliament praying that the said Sections shall be continued in force for a further specified period after the time at which they would otherwise expire, His Majesty may by Order in Council direct that the said Sections shall continue in force for that further period. The purpose of this Amendment is to give effect to an undertaking that I gave on Second Reading that there should be some limit in time to the operation of the Bill and that Parliament should have an opportunity of reviewing it after a period of five years to see how it was working. If Parliament is satisfied at the end of that time that the Bill has operated without disadvantage to any British subject, it is proposed that it shall continue in force for a further specified period.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I appreciate the intention of the Government in proposing this Amendment but I want to ask the Minister of State whether he will not go a little further, not as to the words but as to giving an undertaking. A great deal of the doubts that have been and are still being expressed with regard to the whole matter of the Bill arises from the obsolete character of these immunities and privileges which attach to foreigners resident in this country. They have, of course, existed in some shape or other for a considerable time, certainly running into hundreds of years. To give one illustration, I understand the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that it is customary to give wide privileges and immunities to foreign representatives, so to speak, off the record and to enter into separate contracts and arrangements with them that certain of these privileges and immunities will not, in fact, be exercised. Surely that is due to a rather archaic idea of what those privileges and immunities are to be which modern common sense and decency forbid us from carrying to their full effect. Will not the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that, before the time comes when the House will have an opportunity of considering whether it wishes these Sections to be continued for a further period, he will endeavour to get some international body to look into the whole matter of these diplomatic privileges and immunities to see whether, in the light of modern facts and circumstances, they ought not to be modified for the future? If he will give us that assurance not only that the whole question will be examined in this country but that, in so far as it is within our power, he will get it done internationally with a view to some revision of the basic ideas underlying diplomatic privileges and immunities, I think the Committee will be much more satisfied than they will be unless that undertaking is given. That seems to me to be at the back of the minds of Members.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Lewis

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 5, leave out "specified."

I have a second Amendment in the same line, after "period" to insert "not exceeding five years." The Attorney-General intimated that the Government might be inclined favourably to consider these Amendments and, that being so, hoped that we would not press the Amendment that was then under discussion was not pressed, and I hope the Government will now favourably consider these Amendments to the proposed Amendment. As the Minister pointed out, the proposed Amendment is the fulfilment of a promise given on Second Reading to limit the operation of the Bill. As originally drafted, it was unlimited in time. The Minister now says that he is willing to limit it to five years, subject to a proviso that a further extension may be granted. I wish that that further extension in turn shall be limited to five years. My purpose is to ensure that this Bill does not too long escape the further consideration of the House. It affects a large number of persons, and many of us feel strongly about it, but the Government are anxious to have these powers. Therefore, we ask that they shall be limited in time.

Mr. Mander

I should like to support the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence).

Mr. Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)

I rose to speak on the proposed Amendment, but I understand that it is out of Order until the Amendment to the Amendment has been dealt with.

The Chairman (Major Milner)

We shall have to dispose of the Amendment to the proposed Amendment first.

Mr. Law

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) is a far-seeing man. He wants to know not only what the position will be five years from now, but what it will be five years after that. I do not think that the Amendments that he proposes to my Amendment are in any way unreasonable. As he says, he and some of his hon. Friends have misgivings about this Bill, They want to ensure that the procedure adumbrated by the Bill does not get beyond the control of the House of Commons, and I can see no possible objection to the procedure which he suggests. Accordingly, I am prepared to accept the Amendment on behalf of the Government.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made to the proposed Amendment: In line 5, after "period," insert "not exceeding five years."—[Mr. Lewis.]

Question proposed, "That the proposed words, as amended, be there inserted."

Mr. Mander

I thought that the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) was a good one, because many misgivings which are reasonably felt by hon. Members on the other side might be cleared up if we had a proper appreciation of diplomatic privileges. The present privileges are archaic and have grown up over many centuries. If we were starting now we should never dream of giving these privileges. We have not only the Dumbarton Oaks organisation but other organisations as well; and they will present new problems. Any inquiry should be international because this is a problem that affects all countries. We could hardly do it on our own. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend how far other countries among the United Nations are granting similar privileges to members of these organisations when they go to other countries. We cannot afford to be behind them. We want to be on the same basis, and the best way of getting on to a reasonable basis in all countries is to have an inquiry in which all the United Nations can take part.

Mr. Petherick

I hope that it will not be believed by the Government that all Members of the Committee are in favour of an international inquiry into diplomatic privileges as a whole. These privileges have grown up over many centuries, and, on the whole, although occasionally they have been open to challenge, they have been necessary in the same way and for the same reasons as the privileges of Members of Parliament are necessary. They are necessary to enable diplomats and Members of Parliament to carry on their jobs. Such privileges are immunity from arrest, freedom from lawsuits of a controversial and political nature, extraterritoriality of an embassy or legation, freedom to communicate in cipher, and so on. It would lead to all kinds of international backbiting and legalistic quarrels if the whole question, which has been reasonably interpreted for centuries, were now raised at some international conference, particularly when every country in the world, as a result of the war and Dumbarton Oaks, will have more than it can stomach in the next few years Therefore, I hope that the Government will not think that the House of Commons is unanimous in this matter.

Dr. Russell Thomas

I ask the Government to believe that the feelings that have been expressed on this Bill are due to the muddled condition in which we find these matters, and not to any puckish attitude. It has been felt that large numbers of people should not be added to the list of those enjoying diplomatic immunity without being scrutinised. I do not altogether agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr.Petherick), but am rather inclined to support the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). I do not think, however, that it is necessary to have an official international inquiry. The Foreign Office could well inquire in a private way what was the position in other countries, so as to find out what exactly were the immunities granted to our officials in different countries abroad. We could in this way see whether we could build up a common practice and see how far we could improve our own attitude to diplomatic immunity. We have been told that diplomatic immunity is an old thing. It is also an extremely muddled thing, so muddled, indeed, that in the reign of Queen Anne this House endeavoured by an Act of Parliament to establish what diplomatic immunity was. We base ourselves on that Act, but things have been very unsatisfactory ever since in some respects. All sorts of torts and crimes have been committed and diplomatic immunity has been pleaded, not always with success. The position should be clarified and I suggested on the Second Reading of the Bill that an amending Statute to this Statute of Queen Anne should be considered some time in future after correlating all the facts from the inquiry I have suggested.

There is another point which I should like to put to the Committee. The Amendment asks that the Act should be renewed by an Address of both Houses in five years, after which the Act could be extended for a further period. In view of what has been said to-day as to the need for an inquiry into the state of diplomatic immunity generally, would it not be better for the Government to come to the House in five years' time with a new Bill? They would in the ordinary way have had considerable experience, and they would have also the results of the inquiry which has been suggested and the experience of the working of the Act. Instead of coming for an address automatically renewing the Act, let the Government come forward with a new Bill which will rectify whatever has been found to be imperfect in the working of this Measure.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)

I am glad that the Minister of State has been able to limit the period of the Bill in the way in which he has. On the Second Reading, I drew attention to the fact that the Bill in its original form would make a permanent alteration in our law, which would not be desirable when we merely wished to deal with a situation of a temporary character. I have an Amendment on the Order Paper which would have limited the life of the Bill in a certain way; but it is right to acknowledge that my right hon. Friend has met me very handsomely. I am not sure that the Amendment which he has moved is not more satisfactory in some ways than the Amendment which I should have moved myself, had it been selected.

Let me say something on the point which was raised by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). I am disposed to agree with him that some inquiry into the present conditions under which diplomatic privileges are granted has become desirable. Diplomatic privilege, as I understand it, had its origin in the privilege granted by one sovereign to another, as part of the international courtesy which was once exchanged between sovereign Powers. It has grown into a very much greater and more widespread system of immunity than was ever intended in the circumstances in which it arose. At the time of its origin, there was some advantage in extending it, on a fairly wide scale, so as to obtain immunity for all representatives from the laws of foreign Powers. In those days reciprocity was very well worth having. We sent our representatives to countries whose legal systems were often very different from our own, and had they become subject to those systems they would have been liable to penalties of a character unknown to our own municipal laws. Conditions have changed very substantially. The legal and criminal systems of nations have been assimilated to a very considerable extent. I believe that there are still countries in which the accused person is expected to plead guilty, a procedure not hitherto known to our Criminal Law. But these countries are not very numerous.

In these circumstances, I am inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the time has come when we ought to consider whether any real advantage is obtained by extending these immunities over the very wide field to which they have become extended, and whether there is really any practical advantage left in extending them to every servant and every clerk of every Ambassador and of every international organisation.

Mr. Mander

Is it not a fact that so long as other countries go on offering these inducements we are bound to do so?

Mr. Hutchinson

I was saying a moment ago that the advantages of reciprocity seem to me to be very much less than they once were. I would answer my hon. Friend in that way. Let me say in conclusion that it seems to me that the time has now come when, no doubt in conjunction with other nations, it would be desirable if the whole field of diplomatic privilege could be reviewed and we considered whether it is still necessary or desirable that this privilege be extended, as it now is, over a large number of persons.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Law

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas) suggested that we should make an inquiry into what privileges were accorded to us in other countries. I can assure him that no inquiry is necessary, because we already know. They are the privileges which we accord in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked me further whether there was anything to ensure that other countries were treating international organisations in the same way that we were proposing to treat them under the Bill. I can give him that assurance. In the case of U.N.R.R.A., every Member Government of U.N.R.R.A. has given exactly the same undertaking as we have done. My hon. Friend will no doubt have seen that there is a provision in Clause 4 of the Bill which definitely ensures reciprocity of treatment. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton went on to say that he would very much rather have a new Bill in five years' time. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent him having a new Bill then if he wants it. If, in five years' time, my hon. Friend is still as eloquent and persistent as he has been recently, I think the chances are that he will get his new Bill, unless the Government of the day has exceptional stamina. I can give him the assurance, if it is any comfort to him. I do not think I should ever be tempted to describe him as being puckish.

The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) raised what is clearly an important point. He suggested, and some other hon. Members supported him, that we should give an undertaking that we would look into the position of diplomatic privilege with a view to modifying it. I can see the point of view of my right hon. Friend and hon. Members who supported him, but I would not agree to the proposition that just because something has been in existence for a very long time and has worked very well during that time it should therefore be changed. My hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) did, I think, put his finger on the crux of this problem. He said that, after all, immunities and privileges of this kind were like the immunities and privileges which Members of Parliament enjoy. They are given simply in order to enable them to carry out their job. I do not think we ought lightheartedly to contemplate anything that would make it more difficult for diplomats to carry out their job. At the same time I can see that there is considerable uneasiness in the minds of many hon. Members.

I would, however, point out to them that it is impossible for me to give an undertaking to the effect that we will review international practice, and that if, from our particular point of view, international practice seems undesirable then international practice will be changed. Obviously, I cannot give that undertaking, and if I did so it would be meaningless. It is not within our power to change international practice. Clearly anything that was done would have to be done with the agreement of other nations. My right hon. Friend suggested that we should call a conference or instigate a conference to consider this matter. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth, I think it was, who said we had a full enough plate. At the moment we have a great deal to do and it would, I think, be a pity to try to call the nations of the world together at this moment of time to consider this particular problem. However, I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance that we shall watch very carefully the operation not only of this Bill but of diplomatic privileges and immunities as a whole, and if it seems to us to be necessary to suggest to other nations that action should be taken we shall make that suggestion to them. I do not think I can go further than that on that point.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the 'Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Douglas (Battersea, North)

There is one point about which I should like a little reassurance. I do not disagree with the principle of the Bill. People who exercise diplomatic functions should not be impeded in doing so. That, I think, is the basis for making an extenson of diplomatic privilege. But this extension is made at the expense of depriving British citizens of rights they would normally have. During the course of our discussions it appears to have been suggested that the only case in which people might have claims against individuals or organisations who enjoy diplomatic immunity is that of road accidents. There are a great many other vicissitudes of life which might give British citizens perfectly good claims against people who are granted these immunities, and they ought to be protected in some way.

If immunity is granted for the benefit of the State, in order to facilitate international relationships, the State ought to assume the responsibility of compensating British nationals who have proper claims which they are debarred from pursuing. One can assume a great many cases in which such claims could properly be made. Let us suppose that an international organisation has a building in which there is a lift which is allowed to get into a defective condition, and some innocent person, calling there properly upon business, meets with an accident. Is that person to be deprived of all remedy, or should he be granted something in compensation or in lieu of the right of which he has been deprived? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it would not be proper, in cases of that kind, if anybody is deprived of his legal remedy, for the Government to assume the obligation of compensating him. That is, in effect, the circumstance which has arisen during the course of the present war; the Government have undertaken the obligation of compensating people who are deprived of the opportunity of pursuing claims against foreign nationals or organisations who are in this country. That principle ought to be established so that the granting of diplomatic immunity should not also carry automatically the corollary of depriving British citizens of compensation to which they are properly entitled.

The Attorney-General

I cannot think that would be a good idea. It might encourage people to acts of great recklessness if, however many of our citizens they knocked down, we would meet the bill for damages. My right hon. Friend explained that in the case of motor accidents, which are the most common, though I quite agree with my hon. Friend opposite that they are not the only ones, a very satisfactory procedure has been laid down. The reason for that is, no doubt, that such a case has arisen more than once and, therefore, one has got what may be described as a regular practice with regard to it. What my right hon. Friend said in regard to motor accidents is really evidence of the general attitude in which foreign Governments and these organisations ought to, and will, meet cases of this kind. I think it is rather striking that in the course of this very full discussion, in which many Members are rather critical of this whole business, the only case that was brought forward was one as long ago as 1933, one which, indeed, caused our Government to take the line which has really led to a satisfactory arrangement with regard to motor car accidents.

I hope my hon. Friend and the Committee will trust the Foreign Office to use every influence, as they have done successfully in the past, to see that these immunities do not result in hardships to private individuals by dopriving them of compensation to which they are entitled. In the case put by my hon. Friend, which I think was not one of negligence but defective structure, my right hon. Friend said that is a case where we should—perhaps "insist" is the wrong word—be satisfied that on representations being made the organisations, whether an international organisation like this, or a foreign Government, would waive the immunity, if a satisfactory settlement was not arrived at and they were disputing liability. Therefore, although I fully appreciate the great importance of seeing that these immunities are so used that injustices of the kind my hon. Friend has in mind do not arise, I hope that experience of the past will encourage him. One thing that is clear from the Debates of this Committee is that in the future the working of this Bill and of these immunities generally will be closely scrutinised, and if it is felt that there are injustices the attention of the Government will be called to them.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.