HC Deb 27 September 1944 vol 403 cc349-74

Order for Second Reading read.

4.57 P.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The Bill deals with two or three different points, which I will explain to the House as briefly as I can. The House is no doubt aware that, under international law, nations recognise certain immunities and privileges as attaching to foreign Governments and their representatives. We enjoy those privileges in respect of our own Government and our own representatives abroad, and we concede them to foreign Governments and their representatives here. Clause I deals with the position where you have, not a single foreign Government, but a body which is an association of foreign Govern- ments. One of the examples with which we are particularly concerned at the moment is the body which is called by its initials U.N.R.R.A. It may well be that, apart from Clause 1, our courts here would treat an association of foreign Governments in the same way as they treat a foreign Government; but it is desirable that the matter should be dealt with by legislation, first of all to remove doubts, secondly for reasons which I will explain shortly when I come to deal with the Clause in a little greater detail, and thirdly in order to enable us to apply to these associations a provision as to making a list of the privileged representatives, which has been done in this country with regard to foreign embassies ever since the Diplomatic Privileges Act, 1708. If people are to be given the privileges to which they are entitled under international law it is very desirable that there should be an authoritative list of them. We can do that at present with the ordinary representatives of foreign Governments. One of the purposes of Clause 1 is to enable a list with statutory effect to be published of those affected and representing organisations such as U.N.R.R.A.

The scheme of the Clause is this: Subsection 2 (a) deals with the immunities and privileges of the association, such as are enjoyed by foreign Governments as an association. The main immunities are, as the House knows, that a foreign Government cannot be sued in our courts unless it submits to the jurisdiction. It is also not liable to Income Tax, and the premises which it occupies enjoy certain immunity. Clause 1 (2) (a) of this Bill enables an Order in Council to be issued providing that an organisation, U.N.R.R.A. for example—

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman put U.N.R.R.A. in its proper terms? We are abbreviating everything now.

The Attorney-General

It is the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association, hereinafter known as U.N.R.R.A. The organisation, which contains foreign Governments and ours, may enjoy such of the immunities and privileges as are specified in the Order. I would like to say something with regard to immunity from legal process in respect of contracts which may be entered into by a body such as U.N.R.R.A. as regards the future policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter. To take U.N.R.R.A. as an example, by the nature of its activities it may want to enter into contracts in this country. It is desired by everybody that there should be no prejudice to persons who enter into contracts with it. In these contracts there will be clauses by which the parties will, if necessary, go to arbitration, and U.N.R.R.A. will not prevent access to the courts on a legal point, such as is available under our ordinary arbitration law. It will submit to the jurisdiction, if it is desired by the other party to take a legal point to the courts. If other bodies come along, which enter into contracts here, we shall see that similar arrangements are made for arbitration in case of disputes, and resort to the courts in those arbitration cases in the some way as the ordinary party contracts.

Clause 1 (2, b and c) deals with the immunities conferred upon the representatives. The scheme is broadly this; the holders of high offices, other than British subjects, will have what are the normal full diplomatic immunities. It was thought right, indeed it has been agreed with those who have been conferred with about this organisation, that what one may call officials other than those at the top, instead of having the full diplomatic immunity should have an immunity akin to that which Consuls have, that is, an immunity from legal process in respect of their official acts but not otherwise, and no doubt immunity from direct taxation on their official salaries which they receive from a foreign Government or the organisation of Governments. That is the common practice. Our representatives abroad do not pay local tax on salaries they receive from us.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South): But this applies to British subjects.

The Attorney-General: Other than British subjects.

Sir H. Williams: Under Clause 1 (2, c) it is British subjects as well.

The Attorney-General: I may have been wrong. I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. It may be that the taxation exemption does not apply under (c). Perhaps I can have an opportunity of looking into that and deal with it at a later stage.

Mr. Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)

Is not (c) intended to apply to representatives of the Empire?

The Attorney-General

Yes, they get immunity in respect of their official acts. I think it must be right that they should do that. I have already referred to Clause 1 (3). This enables a list to be drawn up of persons furnished with these privileges such as is now published in the London Gazette under the Act of Queen Anne. Sub-sections (3) and (4) deal with that. Sub-section (5) applies the provisions of the War Damage Act

Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

With regard to Sub-section (3) how can we challenge the list compiled by the Secretary of State? So far as I can see he can put almost anyone in that list.

The Attorney-General

You cannot, but questions can be asked about it.

Mr. Bevan

We should have to question each individual.

The Attorney-General

It is a procedure which has been in operation for the last 230 years in respect of foreign Embassies. If anybody thinks that somebody has been put on who ought not to be, the matter can be raised in the ordinary way. The list is conclusive, that is the object of it, though naturally the Foreign Secretary's action in that respect, as in others, can be challenged in this House if anyone disagrees with it. [Interruption.] If anybody thinks that in this matter, or any other matter, the Foreign Secretary is not acting properly he can be challenged. The whole point of the list is that once it is issued that settles it. If people think it is a bad list—

Mr. Bevan

May I put this point? In the normal case, the list will be supplied by the other Power to the Foreign Secretary. In this particular case, the list will be supplied by the other Powers acting in conjunction with the Government of which the Foreign Secretary is a member. It is not quite the same thing. If the representative of a foreign Power says "We would like immunity to be granted," the Foreign Secretary receives that application from the foreign Power. In this case it is partly through his own Government. In fact we may be excluding from our jurisdiction a very large number of British citizens.

The Attorney-General

I should have thought that in some respects it was an advantage that we should have a say in the matter. I do not think there need be any controversy about the provision that these representatives should have immunity in respect of their official acts. I can deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). Officials dealt with under Clause 1 (2 c) will only get Income Tax exemption on their salaries if they are not British subjects ordinarily resident here. As the House will see, (c) gives a discretion to confer such exemptions as are specified in the Order provided that exemption is given in respect of the performance of official duties.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

Might not the Order which specifies the privileges and immunities, specify them to be free from taxation and liable to pay duty in Customs and Excise?

The Attorney-General

Yes, that is why I have given the House the assurance that British subjects ordinarily resident here will not be exempt from tax on their salaries. It is perfectly true that the Clause does give a general power. That is why I am stating what the intention is—the immunities normally given to Consular representatives. I think the advantage of (c) is that if you do not take this power to give what I call the lower stage of immunities it might be held that all the officials, under international law or ordinary principles, were entitled to the full privileges. It has been agreed that the full immunity shall be conferred only on the higher officials, and that the lower officials shall have, broadly speaking, only the Consular type of immunity.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

In the event of a person normally resident not in this country but overseas, in the service of His Majesty's Government, returning here, would he be exempt from taxation because he was not normally resident here?

The Attorney-General

Perhaps we can consider that later: it is rather a different point. The principle is that if a British subject is normally resident here and in the ordinary way pays British Income Tax, he should do so. If he were normally resident somewhere else and came here merely in the course of his duties, he should not do so. If he were here year after year, of course, a different question might arise.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not seem to read into the wording of the Bill what he was apprised of a few minutes ago. Can we be assured that the Bill will be amended so that he or I or anybody else can interpret it? Obviously, in the Bill the intention is not expressed.

The Attorney-General

No, I think it is right to have the Bill in such a form that you can give the wider immunity, and leave it to the Order in Council to exempt British subjects from taxation in the way you would be bound to do in the case of those who were not British subjects normally resident here. But if my hon. Friend or anybody else has a point on which he would like the assurance of the Secretary of State, we will consider whether the assurance can be given. [Interruption.] The Order in Council comes before us, and if a Member thinks that exemptions are being granted that are wider than are reasonable he can raise the point when the appropriate Order in Council comes before us. There will be other organisations, and one does not know what their form will be. It is right that the Bill should give the power, and that the power should be applied by Order in Council. The Order in Council comes before the House.

Mr. Bevan

It cannot be amended, unfortunately.

The Attorney-General

No; the hon. Member knows that that is the case in respect of many matters. Clause 3 does not raise any question of principle. It deals with the diplomatic immunities of representatives attending international conferences. There is no doubt that under international law, which is recognised by various States, those representatives should have immunity, and it is convenient that we should be able to apply the procedure which we now apply to foreign Embassies to representatives attending these conferences. It is even more important that we should have such powers for these conferences, because people come suddenly to them in large numbers, whereas in Embassies they are often here for a long time. Clause 4 provides that the Act shall not preclude His Majesty's Government, if they are not having these privileges given to their representatives in foreign countries, from taking counter-action here.

Clause 5 raises no question of principle, but is necessary as a result of the wording of the Act, which Parliament passed in 1941, extending diplomatic privileges to members of the Allied Governments established in this country. At the time the Act was passed those Governments were established here. Some are now established elsewhere, although they have left one or two members here in London, and it is desirable that those members who are still here should continue to enjoy the immunities which the Act of Parliament intended to confer upon them. The wording of that Act makes it, at any rate, doubtful whether if the principal seat of the Government is removed elsewhere any Ministers left behind here can continue to enjoy the immunities. This Clause makes it clear.

Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)

The Governments of Allied countries are to receive benefits under the Bill. Does that include both the legitimate Governments and the free Governments?

The Attorney-General

The original Act referred to Allied Governments. It provided—

Mr. Hopkinson

Very often there are two Governments.

The Attorney-General

It provided for the publication of a list. I have not got the list here, but if anybody wanted to know whether any Minister of a particular Government was enjoying immunity under the Act he could look at the list and see. All the Clause does is to say that if you are on that list as a Minister you do not lose your immunity because the Government to which you belong are now principally established in another country.

Mr. Bevan

Does His Majesty define the Governments to whom he desires these privileges to be extended?

The Attorney-General

By looking at the list anybody can draw his own conclusions, because he will see certain individuals on it, and those who are familiar with the Government of that country will realise who are the representatives of that Government.

Mr. Hopkinson

I may be obtuse, but I find this difficult to understand. Suppose that on this list there are representatives of both the legitimate Government and the free Government of a country, and they are occupying the same premises together, and suppose that a member of one Government happens to bump off a member of the other Government; has he diplomatic privilege?

The Attorney-General

I think that if my hon. Friend is interested in the Government of some particular country he had better put a question, to the Foreign Secretary. What I can tell him is this. The Act deals with Allied Governments recognised by His Majesty's Government. He will find the names of the Ministers on the list. The only thing that this Clause does is to say that that immunity is not lost because the Government is not established here, although one or two who are on the list still remain.

5.19 p.m.

Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has given a much ampler explanation of the Bill than was given in another place. But when I read the Bill in the first instance I was considerably puzzled by certain of its Clauses, and was not at all certain to whom the Bill would apply. There are still doubts in my mind. I would like to put them to the Attorney-General, in the hope that they can be removed. I know that there are certain safeguards in the Bill, but it is not at all clear why, at this very late hour, the Bill was necessary, how the discovery was made that such a Bill had become necessary.

Further, it is not even clear, from the explanation already given to us, to whom the Bill is to apply. The Attorney-General said that it would operate in respect of associations of Governments, and he instanced the case of U.N.R.R.A. What is the position of organisations like the International Labour Office, which is constituted in a somewhat different way? Its representation is quite different. Is it, or would it be, in a position somewhat similar, say, to an organisation such as U.N.R.R.A., to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention? Then, again, I would like to know what is the position supposing the International Labour Office were established in London, or if U.N.R.R.A. transferred its principal office to London. Are we to understand that its permanent staff would be entitled to the immunities enjoyed by the normal diplomatic service?

Again, many of the servants of these organisations will have their salaries paid by the funds of the association and not by the respective Governments which make up the association, and, therefore, it will be of interest to know whether, in the case of foreign subjects, other than British subjects, they would be entitled to the immunity from Income Tax to which the Attorney-General has referred. It is because there is some doubt in our minds as to the extent to which this Bill is going to apply, that we would like to have some satisfaction in regard to this point. In regard to the general principle of the Bill, we cannot, of course, take exception, but it would be of some interest to know what are the answers to the questions I have put.

5.23 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

The Attorney-General was not in his usual form in describing this Bill. I do not think he anticipated there would be so much interest in it, and he had not briefed himself as well as he usually does. He did not tell us why the Bill was introduced. Why should we confer upon these people these high advantages and privileges? You confer them on a foreign Ambassador because you treat him as the sovereign of another nation, and his Embassy as part of the territory of another nation. These people are quite different. They are traders, of a sort. What is the need for this Bill, and under what disability would these people suffer if they did not have this Bill? They will have a status far higher than that of Members of His Majesty's Government, far above the law, and can order things in his country, and need not pay for them.

Mr. Bowles

They can go on the beaches and bathe.

Sir H. Williams

That is a matter which the Attorney-General knows I am prevented from discussing. These people are exempt from rationing, and get all the food they want.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Hall)

indicated dissent.

Sir H. Williams

Does the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs suppose that British rationing applies to Embassies?

Mr. Hall

I am not suggesting that British rationing applies to Embassies, but they cannot get all the food they like. There is a system of rationing applying to Embassies.

Sir H. Williams

All I am saying is that Embassies get more food than British homes, and it is proposed that all these people, who are going to feed the starving peoples of Europe, are to be outside rationing themselves. They can have all the petrol they want, need not pay their bills, and can commit minor crimes and not be prosecuted.

The Attorney-General

I did say, and I think it is probably right, that these people would have privileges as representatives of foreign Governments in any event. Being representatives of foreign Governments, they would have them. What this Bill does is to enable us to control them. [Interruption.]

Sir H. Williams

Somebody who comes here not accredited as an Ambassador is in a quite different position, because an Ambassador represents the head of a State, and, because he does, you give him these privileges, but these are a lot of people, ordinary civil servants most of them, coming here to do a job, and you propose to put them outside the normal run of the law, enabling them to enter night clubs, drink after hours and all sorts of things. I should like that to be a very narrow list. I should like to be on it myself, for certain reasons; but that is another matter. Who will pay these people? If paid by the organisation they serve, they will be very happy, because they will pay no tax in their own country or here, whereas a diplomat here gets a salary which is taxable under the law of his own country, and he does pay tax at one end or another. Under this scheme, these people will not pay taxes to anybody. This is really the social revolution we have heard about, and all of us will want to join this club.

The Government should think twice. What is the need for it? Is it to be extended to international organisations such as that of which the noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) is a member, dealing with international Jews? A whole crowd of people are to be put outside the law. I think this is a most undesirable Bill, and the Government will have to make out a strong case for it. I hope also that they will make provision in Clause 2 that the Order in Council must be laid before the House, or it will be invalid, because we must not have the Foreign Secretary slipping up, as the Home Secretary did the other day. I hope the Government will not press this to a vote to-night. I think they will be surprised by the amount of opposition to this Bill, which seems to me to be totally unnecessary.

5.28 p.m.

Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)

Personally, I am very glad to see the amount of interest in this Bill. I have always understood that diplomatic privileges are already extended in several directions to a far further degree than is either necessary or desirable, and that anything we ought to do along those lines is rather to curtail the extent of these privileges than to extend them. I listened to the Attorney-General when he was explaining the Bill, but what I most wanted to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman never referred to. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say a single word, so far as I remember, to inform us in what respect the diplomatic privileges were necessary to the body or bodies to whom they are intended to apply. We all know that there is a tradition of diplomatic privilege given to representatives of foreign States, but, when it comes to extending these privileges to different kinds of organisations, then, at least, we are entitled to be given a definite reason and to have explained to us in detail why such diplomatic privileges are necessary. In the explanation we have heard up to the present, I really could not see any case for these diplomatic privileges, and it seems to me that if the Government did, in fact, find it necessary to make special provision for these organisations, they should have come to this House with a short Bill, drawn for that purpose, according them such privileges as are absolutely necessary for the proper performance of their duties, and not ask us to give to them a whole lot of diplomatic privileges which do not appear to be necessary.

In the past, we in this country have given diplomatic privileges to Government trading organisations. I never was able to understand why that was necessary. If any trading organisations come to this country, whether they be private or public, I cannot see for the life of me what need they have for diplomatic privileges. One cannot ignore the fact that however necessary certain degrees of diplomatic privilege may be when dealing with foreign relations, I can conceive that if an Ambassador wishes to express in unmeasured terms his opinion of our Foreign Minister it is something he would naturally desire to be confidential and be quite sure that that expression of opinion would not be conveyed to the Foreign Minister in question. That kind of diplomatic privilege and diplomatic security I can understand, but so far as trading is concerned, I cannot see what there is which would necessitate diplomatic protection.

5.31 p.m.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

I have listened to the Attorney-General, and I agree with the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) that the Government are inclined to think that owing to its being, war-time, anything that comes before the House can be got through without any trouble at all. It makes one suspicious. We on this side have believed that what is called the extension of diplomatic privileges is something which belongs to a particular class and does not come down to the level of common people. I cannot understand that a Measure in the fifth year of the war, and when we are nearing the end of the war, should be used for this purpose and allowed to go through. This is a Bill which has come from another place, and I am always suspicious when they send anything down here, and I wonder what is behind it. It appears to me that it is for the benefit of a very particular class, whom they are trying to help forward in this matter. I hope that the House will take a stand on the matter, and I feel inclined to oppose the Bill. There is no need for it. More useful Measures could be brought forward at a time like this than patched-up Measures of this kind. There is the question of Income Tax and what should be paid, and once we start on that kind of thing we raise the question in the minds of our people, "Is there a special class that can evade Income Tax?" There are so many other things in this which appear to be given to certain privileged people while ordinary people have to put up with the present condition of things. I am far from satisfied, and if there is a Division I shall vote against the Bill.

5.35 P.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I listened to what the learned Attorney-General had to say in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and I agree with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) that we should be extremely careful about granting any extension at all of diplomatic privilege. We do not know how many people will be taken outside the jurisdiction of our courts in some degree or other by the exercise by the Foreign Secretary of a power which this Bill seeks to impose upon him. I ask the House to consider the position of the people who are referred to in Clause 1, Sub-section (2, c). The employees of one of these organisations will not be on the highest level. They are to get immunity from legal processes so far as things done or omitted to be done in the performance of their special duties are concerned. Why? Is any civil servant in Whitehall given such immunity, and why should a British employee of U.N.R.R.A. working in Portland Place get that immunity? I cannot see any reason for that at all, and indeed no reason has been put forward by the Attorney-General.

Let me go further than that. These juvenile employees are not merely to be given immunity from legal process in connection with their duties; they are to be given such privileges and immunities as may be specified by the Foreign Secretary. That may be something or nothing. We are told to-day—and it does not appear in the Bill—that that will not mean freedom from liability to Income Tax. Are there any other taxes? Will people be entitled to go into a shop and buy things without paying Purchase Tax? Will they be able to get petrol without paying part of the Petrol Duty? Will the petrol licence apply to them? Why should they be put into a class by themselves? They are British subjects. Why should they be entitled to drive cars, and to drive them so furiously as to be guilty of manslaughter and then be free from trial? I cannot see why the Bill is being applied to this class. We are extending diplomatic privilege beyond all limits previously granted. If the Government can make out a case for the heads of these organisations having some degree of immunity, such a case has not yet been made out at all. So far as other classes of officers and servants of the organisation are concerned, I can see no reason at all for granting them any immunity from the jurisdiction of our courts, or any immunity from taxation, and I, therefore, think that, before the Bill is given a Second Reading, we ought to be satisfied that it really is necessary at this time.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

The House was asked some years ago to pass a Bill for granting extra-territorial rights to certain nations in this country. We passed that Bill very hurriedly at the instance of the Government, and very many British people and very large numbers of Americans have repented the way they did it on that occasion. It would have been very much better if the House of Commons had spent a little more time in considering what we did then. A great deal of resentment might have been prevented, and a great deal of ill-feeling might never have occurred, if we had not given away our powers so hurriedly, and with so little qualification, as we did on that occasion.

I do not want to enter into details because it would, perhaps, give rise to bad feeling at this stage to do so, but I know very many good friends in other countries who deplore the fact that the House of Commons acceded to the request of the Government to extend privileges and extra-territorial rights, which have in many parts of the country caused very considerable friction. The Government have been very bad leaders of the House of Commons in this respect. What is being done here? I can appreciate, as I think every Member here can, that we are in a state of affairs where it might be necessary to assemble in any capital city, a large number of nationals belonging to very many different countries having specific international tasks to perform. Maybe it is necessary for us in those circumstances to modify certain sovereign rights and to exempt those people from the law of the country in which they happen to reside at the moment. We are living under very exceptional conditions and we have exceptional tasks to perform, and I can quite understand that may happen. But if it has to happen, why should we not have the conditions and limitations clearly defined, and the persons to whom they are to be extended described properly? For instance, I do not see any reason at all why a British subject, if he happens to be employed by U.N.R.R.A. in London, should be exempted from British laws.

There may be a case, though I cannot imagine it, why an American citizen living in London and employed by U.N.R.R.A. should be exempt from English laws. I do not see why we should not extend to other nations the benefit of British jurisprudence. I am astonished that the Government should have such a poor view of our legal system as to confine its benefits to so few people, but apparently we think that our own standards of jurisprudence are uncivilised, and if large numbers of people happen to come to this country we immediately want to exempt them. Do I understand that if an assembly of American citizens are employed by U.N.R.R.A. in London, they are, therefore, subject in London to American laws? This is a very important matter. To what laws are they subject? They are exempted from the jurisdiction of our own law. Now to what laws are they subject? Just imagine a very large building in London, in which are housed some thousands of people, some American, some French, some Dutch, some Belgian, some Swedish—all the the nations of the world living in the same building. Now would the Attorney-General tell me to what body of jurisprudence all those persons are subject? What common standard is there? Obviously, although they are in London they are not subject to our laws because this Bill puts them outside them. To what body of laws are they subject? What codes of conduct govern their behaviour?

I can imagine, and I think all the Members of the House of Commons can imagine it being desirable, if you are going to have international functions such as these people are discharging, that you should have international codes of conduct to guide them. Where are they? We have not heard a word about them this evening. They are obviously not going to be our codes of conduct because we specifically put them outside those frontiers. We are putting them outside, but into what are we putting them? We are putting them into a juridical vacuum, because, even if it be assumed that each particular congeries of nationals is subject to the laws of the particular nation to which it belongs, in their common activities in that building and in that country they are under no common obligations at all. I speak as a person convinced that certain sovereign rights have to be taken away, that we have to limit certain sovereign claims.

I admit, as I think my hon. Friend here speaking for the Labour Party admits, that these international obligations, if they are to be discharged sincerely, must necessarily be accompanied by limitations of sovereign rights. But if rights are to be taken away, there must be some official receiver, some one who accepts the rights which you have given away. Who is it? We know our part in the business. Our part is to give the rights away, but who receives them? Surely the corollary of this Bill is for the Government to have accepted the obligation of telling us what tribunal, what body of law, what system of conduct, what codes are to be superimposed upon the national codes of jurisprudence to which these people could be subject. But the Government have not told us anything at all. The Government have simply come along and asked us to abrogate our rights without realising that when we confer immunities upon certain people we take away rights from British subjects, because every time that we say to a person resident in London—or to a British subject employed by U.N.R.R.A.—that he is exempted from British laws, persons entering into contact with him are denied their rights. If they are denied their rights, to what tribunal do they appeal? Where do they go?

The Attorney-General

I am sure my hon. Friend will remember that part of my speech which dealt with the arbitration clause contracts, and I give the assurance on behalf of U.N.R.R.A., that they would not use their immunity as an association of sovereign Governments to preclude access to the courts.

Mr. A. Bevan

I am sorry, but I think the House is with me in this matter, when I say that I am rather tired of assurances from the Front Bench. Why are these things not put in a body of legislation? No one can take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assurances to the courts. In fact the court is not defined. The arbitration tribunal itself is not set up. The tests are not established. I am trying to show here that we are at the beginning of a developing series of events. This is not merely an ad hoc situation with which we are dealing, because it is perfectly obvious to any student of international affairs that you are bound to have these international activities cutting across national frontiers and interfering in national systems of jurisprudence. In those circumstances it is obvious that we must regularise the codes of behaviour to govern the people that are to be given these special privileges. Therefore, I suggest seriously to the House of Commons—not merely as an intellectual exercise but as a part of our duties—that we ought not to allow the Government to have this Bill until they have thought the matter out very much more carefully.

May I say this, too, to the right hon. and learned Gentleman because I have been very worried about this in the last six or seven months? I can see very clearly that we are going to be faced with considerable constitutional difficulties. Over centuries we have known how to govern the behaviour of our own citizens. We have got control over our own representatives—not as much as I think sometimes we ought to have—but, nevertheless, when those representatives enter into relationships with other countries, we have not yet developed any constitutional way of having sufficient control over them. International relationships have gone very largely beyond the control of the House of Commons. Our representatives go to Washington, Quebec or to Hot Springs. They enter into obligations or understandings with representatives of other countries which we have not discussed beforehand. We do not know what they are going to be and they involve limitations. I am not quarrelling with it; I am saying it is absolutely essential. You have here some sort of world organisation in embryo and it is developing. But with this development the House of Commons must consider what constitutional adaptations it ought to make in order to extend its control over these representatives, and the obligations into which they enter in our name.

Here we have the Government coming forward with a Bill which is implementing the arrangements entered into by persons to whom we have given no autho- rity at all. We have not discussed them; we do not know the things to which they refer. They can enter into contracts worth millions of pounds and involving hundreds of thousands of our citizens, with no body of doctrine and no clearly thought out principles by which we ought to govern their conduct. These things always happen when new worlds are coming into being, but we ought to govern the birth pangs a litle bit. We ought to apply a little twilight sleep to it. It ought not to be necessary to go through these agonies every time, and I suggest that we ought to consider this matter very much further before we allow the Government to have this Bill.

The Attorney-General said that we are to have an Order in Council which will define the lists of persons. Why should it be necessary that there should be an Order in Council? If it is proposed to confer immunity upon certain persons, or a certain category of persons, why cannot that be included in the Schedule to the Bill? Why should we have to wait for an Order in Council? When an Order in Council comes into force we cannot amend it. You put one reputable person in it, surrounded by a number of doubtful individuals, and we have to accept all the doubtful ones for fear of rejecting the reputable one. Why should we have to confer these powers on the Executive and then wait for the way they intend to exercise them in an Order in Council? Honestly, it is most undignified for the House of Commons to behave in this way. We are bringing down upon ourselves the contempt of other countries in parting so easily with the traditional powers of this House.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)

Being of a harmonious character, I dislike disagreeing with people and if I have to disagree I prefer to do so as little as possible. I am happy to say that I have to disagree with only one person, and that is my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. I am in most cordial agreement with every Member of this House who has expressed misgivings about the Bill to which we are asked to give a Second Reading to-night. I notice that at the moment there is no representative of the Foreign Office on the Front Bench—

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

He has gone for instructions.

Mr. Petherick

Yes, I think he may be acting in the nature of a human S.O.S. to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Be that as it may, there ought to be a representative of the Foreign Office on the Front Bench during the whole course of this important Bill, particularly so as I would like to begin by asking a question to which I should have hoped he would have been able to reply. We have had during this year, a very large staff of representatives in the United States of America, shipping representatives, Ministry of Supply representatives and any number of others, and I want to know whether they have had, during the time they have been there, diplomatic immunity in the United States. It is very important that we should know that, because if they have been able to carry on all these years without diplomatic immunity then the reason for giving diplomatic immunity to representatives of U.N.R.R.A. is very much less than it otherwise might have been. Therefore, I sincerely hope that we shall get a specific reply on that point from the Foreign Office.

I join with other Members in asking whoever is to reply to the Debate why this Bill is necessary now. The Attorney-General gave an explanation of what the Bill does, which we were very glad to have, and cleared up a good many points in answer to questions, but, with respect, and in friendly fashion, I want to tell him that he did not say why the Bill was necessary, why it was required and what exact purpose the Government envisaged. He did not say whether U.N.R.R.A. would have this immunity, or whether there are other organisations in view. I can foresee all kinds of difficulties. In the period of post-war reconstruction it is more than probable that other organisations of an international character will be set up, possibly sitting in London, to deal with different aspects of post-war reconstruction. I can foresee that many of those organisations may need, or think they need, very large staffs. Who is to decide how large a staff any organisation is to have? Is it to be the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs? Suppose country X goes to the Secretary of State and says "I want a further 200 typists or 200 officials". It puts the Foreign Secretary in an awkward position, similar to that of the Treasury here, if he has to say, "No, you shall not have any more." It might cause a certain amount of ill-feeling of an international character. The Secretary of State would be put in the awkward position of saying, "No, you have far too many officials already, and I really cannot add to that list".

I can see, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) pointed out, a very large extension of the numbers of persons enjoying diplomatic immunity in London in the future, who may have great blocks of buildings and practically enjoy extra-territoriality, something like the Chinese ports. It might be something like a "Wei-hei-wei Westminster," and it may be extremely difficult to refuse an application on behalf of a foreign Government for an extra block of buildings in order that that Government may be engaged, not necessarily on U.N.R.R.A. work, but on pure propaganda. A number of countries may be so engaged. I think that is dangerous. I am not thinking of only one country, which some Members may think I have in mind; I am thinking of any country which may want a good propaganda service here, and may conceivably use this Bill in order to obtain diplomatic immunity. I would like to ask at whose instance this Bill has been introduced. Who asked for it? Who has been consulted? Have any international organisations such as the inter-Governmental Departmental Committee on Refugees been consulted?

The Attorney-General

I ought to tell my hon. Friend and the House that the Governments which met together to form U.N.R.R.A. did agree that they would recommend to their respective Legislatures immunity on these lines. I apologise to the House that I did not make that clear. That is why the Bill has been brought forward.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

Is the United States Congress having a similar Bill of this kind?

The Attorney-General

Yes, Sir. The various constituent members of U.N.R.R.A. agreed that privileges on these lines should be conferred.

Mr. Creech Jones

Will the Bill be strictly limited to U.N.R.R.A., or apply to a large number of functional organisations which are growing up? Will it operate in connection with other bodies already existing, such as the I.L.O. and the refugees' organisation, and so on?

The Attorney-General

That is why we thought, instead of coming back each time for a separate Bill, we would take power to deal with international organisations by successive Orders in Council.

Mr. Petherick

I take it that the other Governments have agreed with the British Government that similar powers will be asked for. I do not know whether that includes all the Allied Powers and whether they have all agreed. It would be very interesting to know. It would also be interesting to know the reasons why these powers are being asked for. I should feel very disinclined to believe that they are really necessary. In normal times it was found that a foreign Embassy or Legation had to have diplomatic privileges as the representatives of a foreign Power had to carry on their job of representing their Power in certain capitals and it was difficut to carry it on without granting them certain privileges. They were confined to a narrow group for whom it was found to be absolutely necessary to enable them to carry on their job.

We have not been told yet why such privileges are necessary to enable U.N.R.R.A. or any other organisation of a similar nature to carry out its job. They can work in this country in exactly the same way as the denizens of Whitehall, the civil servants. If they have to communicate with their Government they can go to the Embassy or the Legation concerned and ask them to transmit a cable. We are extremely grateful to see the Leader of the House arrive and we hope he will be able to give answers to the cogent questions which many of my hon. Friends have put. I hope he will regard it as advisable to take a little more time to consider whether these privileges are necessary and whether it would not be better to wait for a week or two before proceeding with the Bill so as to give time to the House and the Government to examine the whole matter very much more carefully.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

I join with others who have spoken in asking the Government not to proceed further to-night with the Bill. The Attorney-General has explained neither the reasons nor the necessity for it. We are told that the United Nations have agreed to this. If that is so, why could it not have been proceeded with in the ordinary way and why should we not have been told, when the Bill was presented, the benefits that we are going to get out of it in exchange for the benefits we are giving to other people? I have not heard, except that there has been this subterfugeous arrangement with other nations, any reason given by the Attorney-General for the necessity for this Bill. I am perplexed still more when I hear from the Attorney-General about the high officers, whom he did not attempt to describe, who are referred to in Sub-section 1 (2, c). The paragraph is left quite wide, and we do not know to whom it refers. These people will be free of any Income Tax and in the same sort of position as our Ambassadors abroad. The Attorney-General is wrongly informed. I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman who was until recently the Member for Chelsea, and has passed over to another place and now calls himself something else, was the only person of ambassadorial rank who was in receipt of a salary free of tax.

The Attorney-General

What I said was that our Ambassadors abroad are not subject to local Income Tax in the countries in which they are Ambassadors.

Mr. Stokes

I am referring particularly to persons in this country who are Britishers holding high office who are going to be exempt from Income Tax.

The Attorney-General

Not if they are British subjects.

Mr. Stokes

The Attorney-General said that the only people not exempt from Income Tax are the lower salaried people and that the higher officers would be exempt.

The Attorney-General

Other than British subjects.

Mr. Stokes

But that was not the explanation given. It is clear, then, that the high officers will be subject to Income Tax. Otherwise, we shall have the same position as exists in other organisations in the Government, where large numbers of wealthy people engaged in secret service are enjoying large salaries free of Income Tax. I do not understand how, commercially, some of us are going to be placed. With whom are we to enter into contracts? It is probably within the knowledge of my right hon. and learned Friend that U.N.R.R.A. places orders in this country. Who signs the orders and what redress have we got against a man who signs and then refuses to pay? That has happened already—I do not mean the nonpayment, but that contracts have been placed. Several firms within my knowledge have received contracts from U.N.R.R.A. If the person responsible for placing the contracts runs out on his obligations, or someone says that he had no authority to sign, where does the commercial firm stand? Nowhere at all. Will the Government indemnify it, and, if so, with what? With the taxpayers' money? I do not think the Government have really considered that point. It seems to me that the Attorney-General came to the House without having really properly considered the Bill; certainly without having any foreknowledge of the kind of spontaneous opposition which would arise. I hope that in view of the continued and persistent opposition from all sides of the House the Government will not proceed further with this Bill to-day.

6.9 p.m.

Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)

The House will be strengthened in its determination not to accede too readily to this Bill by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). The case against the Bill can be stated very shortly. I do not propose to enter into the question whether these fortunate gentlemen will be exempted from Income Tax, whether they will be excused from food rationing, or what other privileges they may acquire under this Bill. The real case against the Bill is that it constitutes a serious invasion of the rights of very many British citizens.

Let us see what it is admitted that this Bill will do. These organisations will come to this country and they and their officers will drive about the streets in motor cars. They may knock down one of my constituents or a constituent of any Member of this House. In the ordinary course that individual would have a right to claim in respect of his injury and, if his claim was not satisfied, could go to the courts to enforce it. But he will not be able to do that if the driver is protected by diplomatic privileges.

If some good reason had been given us why British citizens should be put in this very unadvantageous position the House might have been more ready to agree to the Bill. But I am of the same opinoin as my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick). No real reason has been given to us for making these considerable invasions into the rights of British subjects. Take the case just put by the hon. Member for Ipswich. Many of these organisations are going to be trading organisations. They will come to this country and will make contracts in the ordinary course of business. Suppose a dispute arises in regard to a contract. The person with whom the contract was made will be deprived of the right which he would otherwise have of going to court and presenting his claim and enforcing it, if he could, against the organisation. Why should British subjects be subjected to disadvantage? If we are asked to make what appear to be unreasonable inroads into the rights of our people good reasons should surely be given us why we should do so.

No doubt my right hon. and learned Friend will say that one of the advantages which we shall get from the Bill is that the same privileges will be extended to our own representatives in the foreign countries to which they may go as a part of these organisations. I am bound to say that I have never been able to see that reciprocity is in itself a very great advantage. I see no reason why a British citizen, in an official capacity in the United States, should knock down an American citizen and not have to pay the compensation which the law of the United States would otherwise require him to pay. It may be a great convenience to the official concerned that that should be so, but I have never been able to see any public advantage in it. If a British organisation or a British official goes to some foreign country and employs a staff, and a member of the staff is injured, I could never understand why the member of his staff should not be entitled to recover compensation, according to the laws of the State in which he lives. Nor have I ever been able to see that there is any reason why, if foreigners come to this country and employ a staff, their servants should not be entitled to recover compensation in the usual way; but they may not be able to do so, if the Bill passes into law. There is another point which I desire to bring to the attention of the House. We are not being asked to agree to this Bill as an emergency Measure. The Bill, if passed, will become part of the permanent law of this country. I can see that, in the conditions which will arise in the period immediately following the end of the war, there may be good reasons why this House should be asked to do exceptional things which we would not do in normal times. If the Bill were restricted in its operation to that period my objection would be much less strong than it is. But that is not the case. We are being asked to pass this Bill as a part of our permanent legislation and it will be open to the Foreign Secretary and his successors at any future time to make orders exempting officials of these or other organisations and the organisations themselves from the ordinary law of this country. I would remind the House that in 1941 Parliament extended diplomatic privilege to the members of those foreign Governments who had taken refuge in this country. That was done. But when that was done, it was limited to the period of the emergency. The Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Act, 1941, was restricted in its operation, so far as my recollection goes, to the period during which the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act is in operation. If this Bill had been limited in that way I should have felt much less strong objection to it than I do. But it is not. I put it to my right hon. Friend that the House ought not to be invited in this way to make a permanent alteration of our law. We ought not to be asked to give a permanent power to every Foreign Secretary who will follow my right hon. Friend to exempt persons from the ordinary process of law. At least before we do so we should have some indication of what is regarded as making this exceptional course necessary.

6.17 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

I apologise to the House for not being in my place for the earlier part of this discussion, but I have already heard enough to understand that this Bill is not being received with universal acclaim. I should be the last to complain, and I hope that any Minister at this Box would be the last to complain, of this House being vigilant in respect of the granting of power of this kind. I agree that we have to be care- ful in any extension we grant at any time of diplomatic privileges. I would like to say at once to my hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken that it may be that it is desirable that we should limit the period of this Measure, but I would like, if the House would agree, to give some consideration to the speeches that have been made and to the arguments put during this discussion. It may be that as a result of that examination the Government will decide in some measure to redraft or recast the Bill, and then I would come back to the House and give, I trust, explanations which might be convincing for whatever power we shall ask for. Under those conditions I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.