HC Deb 12 July 1946 vol 425 cc797-809
Mr. Pickthorn

I beg to move, in page 2, line 36, to leave out from "Nations," to the end of the Clause.

I do not feel confident that I fully understand this, but I hope to put my difficulties in such a way that the Minister may find it easy to clarify the matter.

The Minister told us at an earlier stage that the Assembly had decided with regard to the International Court of Justice that its privileges and disputes on immunities should be settled in September next after the Court had given advice. I do not find that that is exactly what the words on page 8 say. They recommend that until further action has been taken the rules which have been applied to the Permanent Court of International Justice should be observed by members in relation to the International Court of Justice. They decided above that that question should be considered as soon as possible. They do not fix a date, though for all I know, it may be overwhelmingly probable that the thing will be settled in September.

What is clear, as the Minister has said on the last Amendment, is that we are the first Legislature to be passing a Bill to implement that part of the Convention which was a completed convention, agreed and desired by the United Nations. But we are going beyond that, because if we enact paragraph (b), we appear to be enacting about an International Court of Justice, and we appear to be enacting now, a settlement on what was recommended should be left for discussion and for final decision, this September perhaps. If that is so, it seems to me that it needs explanation. There seems to be no reason at all for it. I should have thought that we had plenty of legislative work before us this Session, and there does not seem any reason why we should be legislating about something not yet decided and on which, so far as I can understand, the relevant authority has not even recommended that there should be legislation or implementation. The Members of the Court at this First Session are invited to consider this question, and then the General Assembly is going to consider it, but meanwhile the General Assembly recommends that certain interim arrangements shall be followed, and presumably that implies that they would be sufficient. That being so, I find it difficult to see why we should be doing what we are now asked to do. It seems to me to be carrying beyond the point even of logical absurdity this habit of the Government asking for statutory authority well in advance of any possible need for it, and asking for more statutory authority than, they say, they are going to use.

It has become common form for Ministers to say, "You can give us statutory authority without any qualms, because in fact we are not going to use it more than 80 per cent., 30 per cent., or 50 per cent." This seems to be an extreme case of this habit. The Minister has an uneasy conscience in the matter. He says, "It may be said that we are asking for a blank cheque "—I think that is what he is asking for. There cannot be any reason why the House should be so submissive to the Government; for all I have to say to the contrary, it very rightly should implement that part of the Convention which really is the Convention and really deals with the United Nations, but beyond that we have been asked, especially just now when the Government voted us down, to make statutory more than the Commission agreed to. And now it goes quite outside it, and, as far the plain words go, it appears to go against it; we appear to be doing not only more than we are asked to do, but pursuing a course different from that recommended. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will think it right to accept this Amendment.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), on the face of it, has made a very strong case. He is quite right in saying that we are asking for a blank cheque, but it is an extraordinarily small one, as I hope I shall be able to persuade him. As to prognostication about the future, none of us can know, but I think that it is overwhelmingly probable that the Court will put their recommendations to the Assembly this summer—indeed I think they have done it already. The Assembly will certainly deal with them as soon as they get them. I think that that is overwhelmingly probable. Why we put this forward in the Bill is because the main obligation to be assumed in this matter is already shown by our acceptance of the Statute of the Court, and the Statute of the Court is declared in the Charter to form an integral part of the Charter. It therefore came before the House. It states: when engaged on the business of the Court, shall enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities "— and— that their salaries, allowances and pensions shall be free of all taxation. It also states: agents, counsel and advocates of parties before the Court shall enjoy all privileges and immunities necessary for the exercise of their independence and duties. The main obligations are really there, it is the details which we should normally settle by Order in Council. The House of Commons has agreed already that it is necessary, and you must deal with the details by Order in Council. That is the cheque for which I am asking, and it is an extraordinarily small one.

There is also the point about the pressure of legislation. It is for that reason that we are dealing with this here, and because we do not want to bring in another Bill. I think it is right for the Committee to consider the practical effect in terms of the immunities claimed and granted which these people will have. The fact is that 99.5 per cent. of all the effect of this arrangement to be made will be on Dutch soil—the.05 per cent. that may affect any one on British soil will be very small indeed. I hope we shall proceed on the basis of the privilege granted to the old Court. I think it is very improbable that the new system will differ substantially from the old. Therefore, I think we should accept it, and in doing so we should not be doing anything wrong.

2.30 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The Convention states that the General Assembly invites members of the Court at their first sitting to consider this question. The Statute has been framed, but there is no international Court——

Mr. Noel-Baker

The Court was elected in January and it has already met.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Have they responded to the invitation given to them by the General Assembly to consider this question?

Mr. Noel-Baker

They have sent in their report to the Secretary-General. He has not yet distributed it to member Governments, and we do not know what is in it.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Then we come to Subsection (2) where the General Assembly decides that the question of privileges and immunities of the Court shall be considered as soon as possible after receipt of the recommendations of the Court. We know that the recommendations have gone to the Secretary-General, and the right hon. Gentleman tells us that they have been sent to member Governments. They have not been considered by the General Assembly, which is a process to come, and yet the Government come down and, in advance of all these things, ask for the powers they require.

This is a combination of the desire of the Socialist Party to promote privilege wherever they can, coupled with the zeal to get hold of any kind of international machinery and to extol it to the highest degree. I do not think, as the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) has said, that we could consider this matter at a later stage. It is not before us at all. It may take months before the Assembly receives these recommendations, and decides in what form they shall be applied. I want to ask the Minister of State a question about the degree of privilege which will be enjoyed by these judges at the International Court. It may help us to know what will be in the Order in Council. This is an institution at The Hague, and the Subsection mentions privileges given to judges and registrars of the International Court, but the Bill applies to this country and this country alone. Are these learned gentlemen to come over here? I understand that they will do nothing of the kind. They sit at The Hague, and do not go out on commissions of inquiry and investigation, travelling from country to country. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will reply to that point. Again, with regard to the suitors "to that Court, their agents, counsel and advocates." They may come to this country and pass through it, and no doubt we shall wish to extend certain privileges to them, but that every suitor to the International Court at The Hague should be granted privileges in this country, if he is not here on business, is a matter which requires a great deal of consideration. On those two counts, I do not think that the Government's decision, at the moment, is justified, and I hope that my hon. Friends will probe the Minister with further questions.

Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)

I cannot help feeling that this particular point boils down to singularly little. As the Minister of State has said, the Court will normally sit at The Hague, but, being master of its own procedure, it could, in some quite understandable emergency, sit in this country. What weighs with me is that the s League of Nations enjoyed diplomatic privileges analogous to those being sought by the United Nations organisation, and the Permanent Court of Justice enjoyed privileges and immunities analogous to those now being sought by the International Court of Justice. There has been no suggestion that the privileges accorded to the Permanent Court of Justice went unduly far. I do not know—I should like to ask the Minister—whether they want any further privileges than the general immunities and privileges accorded to the League of Nations. I know that the Permanent Court of Justice was a body which commanded very great respect, and which was certainly entitled to enjoy every privilege which was necessary to efficient work. Looking forward to the new International Court of Justice establishing itself in the same position, then, I submit, that it is a case in which we should not be niggardly, and make any bones at all, about giving all necessary privileges and immunities, which will go very little beyond, if they go beyond at all, the general privileges accorded by this Bill to the United Nations generally.

Mr. J. Foster

What the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Harris) has said is, I think, mainly true, that the International Court should be given the privileges which the United Nations decide should be given to them. It is also true that the area of Debate is in a very small compass, but it raises a point of constitutional importance. It is this: In certain countries treaties have the force of law, and, in those countries, unlike England, opportunities are given to the legislative assemblies of debating these treaties when ratified. In England; they do not have the force of law, and they have to be embodied in legislation. Therefore, when the treaty is executed, it is usually right and proper that the treaty should come before the House and be debated. In other words, the treaty is in a form to which legislation is designed to give effect. What is going to happen in this case—in a small area, admit—is that when the Convention, to which we are going to be parties, agree that certain privileges are to be bestowed on the International Court of Justice, Parliament will be unable to debate them, except in one form. The necessary Order in Council will come before this House, and if, within the 40 days in which it lies, it is not objected to, it will pass into law. In my submission, that is not the right way to legislate in matters of this kind. It is all right in the internal affairs of the nation to give the Government, in some instances, not a blank cheque, but a limited cheque, whereby they have to carry out a policy by Orders in Council, but, in the case of international legislation, it is not right to give the Government what the right hon. Gentleman has called a "blank cheque." I think that he did himself less than justice, because it is not even as bad as that. It is a blank cheque which has a limitation upon it. The right hon. Gentleman did not mean a "small blank cheque," because obviously one cannot have a small, unlimited blank cheque; if it is a blank cheque it is open to £1million: He meant that it was a blank cheque with a limitation upon it. It seems to be wrong in principle that for legislation required by international treaty, there should not be an opportunity of debate in this House. I would not object to what is called a positive Resolution—that seems to be another alternative—but it seems wrong to me to do it by a negative Resolution, because the House is then deprived of the opportunity of debating the implications of the international obligations. I think that is a constitutional point which does emerge, although in a small compass, from this Debate.

Major Mott-Radclyffe

No one would object to granting privileges and immunities for the International Court of Justice if we knew what were the recommendations of the Court. The Minister admits that he is asking the Committee to give him what he calls a "blank cheque" and which has now been described as a blank cheque with a limit upon it. The right hon. Gentleman's argument runs: It does not matter, because the amount involved is very small. He said that so far as this Committee is concerned it would probably be affected by no more than 0.5 per cent., because the seat of the Court of International Justice is in the Netherlands. I do not think it matters whether the amount is big or small; we are concerned with the principle. Where the principle of giving a blank cheque is concerned, the amount for which the cheque is given is quite immaterial. I do not think that we ought to be asked to give a blank cheque to the right hon. Gentleman, certainly not before the recommendations of the Court have been received, and, when the right hon. Gentleman came down to this House this morning, I doubt if he knew whether or not the recommendations from the Court had been received. I think that he admitted just now that he only discovered a few minutes ago that, in fact, the recommendations had been received, but that he did not know as yet what they contained. I do not think that is a sufficiently valid argument on which we should give him a blank cheque.

Mr. Challen (Hampstead)

I am not at all sure about the smallness of the amount of this blank cheque. I have listened to a great deal of talk on this Amendment, with regard to privileges conferred on courts, and I have been very puzzled to know what privileges are referred to. In this Bill, we are dealing with diplomatic privileges and with the giving of privileges on the analogy of those given to ambassadors. We now come to another part of the Bill which deals with privileges to judges, registrars, solicitors, barristers, suitors, and all kinds of people connected with courts. Where is the analogy such as we had in the earlier part of the Bill in connection with diplomatic privilege? Take a High Court judge in this country. Surely, we are not proposing to give immunities and privileges to judges, barristers, solicitors and all the rest? What diplomatic privilege has one of His Majesty's judges in this country except in his own court, where he can commit murder, libel, and do all kinds of things without being proceeded against? But a judge walking along the street has no immunity from arrest, and so forth. Who are these suitors to this court on the Continent? They are to have immunities for passing through this country, but it seems that we are being asked to sign a very vague and unmentionable blank cheque. The cheque is as big as one can imagine, and I must urge the Minister to give us some idea what these privileges are which it is proposed to confer on suitors, counsel, barristers and solicitors who are merely going over to the other side of the water to take part in some case.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I think it will be generally agreed that the division between the two sides of the Committee on this matter is not very wide. If I may say so, it is more analogous to the Amendment which we discussed on Clause 1, when the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to meet us with an assurance which enabled us to withdraw our Amendment. Could he not give us some similar assurance on this matter which would allow an agreeable arrangement to be reached? Unfortunately, the point at issue is really this. I quite understand that a Department, knowing that this subject is going to come up soon, in the autumn, and expecting that some agreement will be reached, should take the opportunity in the summer, when a Bill is before Parliament, to include the authority to deal with it. It is much more convenient, of course, for Ministers and Departments to have that kind of proleptic authority than to have to come to Parliament for further authority. It is more practically convenient. I do not know whether it is more politically convenient. The Lord President of the Council, who is so seldom here and who always talks so much about the House of Commons, said that the more Bills which can be passed, the greater the merit for the party opposite. It is quite easy to pass a one-Clause Bill which would go to snake up the score on the scoreboard. Eight hundred such Bills could be passed in as many minutes.

2.45 p.m.

Of course, the Department does not like it and it means extra work for the draftsmen in an already hard worked Department. They would say, "We have got this Bill; let us slip in this extra bit. No one will notice it, and, when the time comes, we will bring out our Order in Council." It will be remembered that an Order in Council is not debated unless it is prayed against, and no one would want to pray against such an institution as a court of justice. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) suggested, if it is a positive resolution, then it is a different matter. We might just as well have a one-Clause Bill. When one has acted as gamekeeper or poacher, or whichever way one likes to look at it, one knows a little of the way in which these things happen. I think that my hon. Friend below the Gangway was right; there is not a very substantial difference. It is more than likely that what will be recommended by this document, when circulated and discussed in December, will be very like the privileges which have existed in the past. I understand that those privileges are carried on now under the law. It is not necessary for this Bill to be passed; they are operative under the existing law.

If the right hon. Gentleman turns to page 8 of the Convention, Article 2, paragraph 3, I believe he will find that the rules which have applied to the permanent court are now, in fact, being observed. Therefore, there is no need to pass this Bill. These people are receiving all the rights which they have enjoyed since the court was set up after the last war. It is only when some additional privilege is granted that it is necessary to take these powers further. The only point of this particular Subsection is to assure that, if the court asks for something more, the Government shall have the power to give it without coming back to Parliament.

May I make a suggestion? We have proceeded very agreeably in this Debate, except upon the matter of the time limit where we thought we ought to stand on our principle. It ought to be possible for us to agree on this minor point, at any rate. If the right hon. Gentleman would say, in effect, that, if it should prove that these recommendations as to additional privileges are very small, with the exception of a few minor changes, he would operate under the Order in Council, but that, if they should be substantial, and if the new code should vary from the existing code, he would bring them to the attention of the House and not issue his Order in Council? I think that my hon. Friends and I would feel that we would not wish to push the point too far. If the right hon. Gentleman could give us that kind of assurance, it would make a considerable difference to the view of my hon. Friends and myself on this matter.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am much obliged for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I will not answer in detail what other hon. Members have said. Broadly speaking, I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris). The thing is bound to be very like the privileges granted to the old court, both as regards the judge, the registrar and his staff. The whole question between us is whether, on this matter, it is worth while having another Bill. I would gladly give the assurance that, if a big change is recommended by the Assembly, I will bring it before the House before an Order is made; I would, so to speak, present a draft Order for consideration by the House be- fore it was submitted to His Majesty. If, however, there is only a small change to be made, then, I suggest, we should proceed under this Bill. If that is agreeable to hon. Members, I am certainly prepared to make that assurance as formal as they desire.

Mr. Pickthorn

I think I understand the right hon. Gentleman. If there is, I will not say a perceptible, but a considerable, difference in the practice desired in future as compared with the previous practice, he will see that the legislative process is again begun. Short of that case, he will use the powers he is now asking the House to give him. In view of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think I ought to make this quite clear. The hon. Member spoke of the legislative process being begun. What I said in reply to the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Macmillan) was that I would bring the substance of any major change, if such there were, before the House before we made an Order—not before I made a new Bill.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I understand that it is not possible to produce a draft Order. One has an Order or one has not an Order. I was saying that if it were a very substantial change, the right hon. Gentleman would not use these powers of making an Order which we could only pray against if we wanted to, but would introduce a one-Clause Bill. It would be quite in order to give us that pledge because I cannot believe the type of privilege that we shall be asked for at this Assembly will be very much greater than the present one, except to meet new provisions. There is no procedure for a draft Order. Perhaps there could be consultation, or some other method could be arranged. We feel that these powers, taken ahead, should not be used to make any really big change in the structure.

Mr. Pickthorn

I think that perhaps can help the Minister. It became almost normal practice during the war, when a matter was controversial, but within the permissible limits not to use statutory powers which might be in existence, but to introduce a specific Bill for the purpose. The right hon. Gentleman would not be introducing any new procedure or behaviour.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think I can give the undertaking to do what hon. Members opposite want when the time comes. We will consult together about the substance of this Order in any case. If hon. Members opposite feel that it does involve a major change, we will again consult. I do not think the Government would resist a one-Clause Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Manningham-Butler

I want to put a short question to the Minister of which I gave some indication in the Second Reading Debate. In line 35, one finds the words: General Assembly or any council or other organ of the United Nations. I must confess that I do not recollect having seen the word "organ" in a Statute of this nature before. We had some reference this morning to the interpretation of the word "organisation." The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) indicated that in his view an international organisation could not exist unless it was a body corporate with its own seal. The hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) rather supported him. The point I make is that there is no definition in this Bill of the words "other organ" and I think that for the purposes of precision and knowing what is going to be covered by the Bill, there ought to be some definition inserted. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman is in some difficulty, as he himself admitted in the course of one of the earlier discussions—a difficulty because it is not easy to define what is and what is not "U.N.0."—but for the purpose of interpreting the Statute, a line must be drawn. There should be some definition of the meaning to be given to the word "organ" or, alternatively, a better word would be the word "organisation," which is generally used throughout the Convention which is recited in the Preamble to the Bill.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think the word "organ" came from the Charter. The hon. and learned Member will remember that Article 22 of the Charter laid down that the General Assembly may establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its duties. These organs may be of different kinds. I think the word is from that Clause and similar Clauses. It would not be possible to insert into this Bill a precise definition of what the organs were to be because they are organs to be created in the future, but I do not think it matters because other organisations are also covered by the phrase which is in the Bill —" organisations to which His Majesty's Government are parties." It is really not a point which ought to cause trouble to the hon. and learned Member.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.