HC Deb 25 July 1946 vol 426 cc375-81

Amendments made:

In page 6, line 24, after "children," insert "under the age of twenty-one."

In line 27, leave out "is," and insert "are."—[Mr. Noel-Baker.]

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

11.2 p.m.

The Minister of State (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

In Committee I undertook that I would give a certain number of assurances, and as Amendments were withdrawn on the strength of those undertakings, I want to give them now, and give them in terms which I hope will meet hon. and right hon. Members opposite as fully as they would desire to be met. The first relates to the application by Orders in Council to other international organisations attached to, or affiliated to—whatever phrase is desired—the United Nations. This is the undertaking. His Majesty's Government will not make an Order in Council under the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Bill now under discussion, giving privileges and immunities which could not be given under the 1944 Act in favour of any existing international organisation (other than the United Nations itself), unless and until the privileges and immunities of the organisation in question have been unified in accordance with the Assembly resolution on this subject, or in favour of any new international organisation unless that international organisation has been brought into relationship with the United Nations organisation and the procedure of the Resolution of the United Nations Assembly has been applied to determine its immunities and privileges. I think some hon. Members at least on the other side have seen this, and I think they are in agreement that it is right.

The next was in respect of the International Court of Justice. With regard to the Court, which we have covered by this Bill, an Amendment having been withdrawn, I gave an undertaking that if we desired to make any considerable change in the immunities and privileges which the old Court of International Justice enjoyed, we would not use the powers under this Bill, but instead would bring a new Bill to the House. If, on the other hand, it was desired only to confer privileges and immunities which were substantially the same, then we would make an Order in Council under this Bill, and if there was any doubt about the matter, I undertook that the Government would consult with the Opposition, through the usual channels, and would determine whether a Bill was necessary or not; if the Opposition desired a Bill, they would of course have it. Those are the two substantive declarations which I undertook to make.

I also said that I would look into the question whether we ought to insert a number of Amendments to deal with certain things which are in the Convention, but which we can deal with without legislation, because the Crown already has the power vested in it. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) will remember that he had a proposal to insert four subsections of one of the sections of the Convention in the Bill. After having taken advice, I thought it would not be right to make such Amendments in the Bill. The Act of 1944 proceeded on the same principle as we are now adopting. It was thought right then, and we still think that is right, that we should not legislate about things which can be done without legislation. That principle is very desirable to adhere to, because if we try to legislate for matters for which we do not need legislation, a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding as to the state of the law results. It is better, therefore, to avoid unnecessary legislation whenever that can be done. If I had started to accept what the hon. and learned Member proposed, I should have had to do a great deal more and include sections 5, sections 9 and 10, the whole of Article 12, sections 24–28— all the Convention not covered by the Bill. It would have made the Bill much more complicated, and in itself it would have been undesirable.

I undertook to see what Amendments we could bring to the Bill to meet the points raised by hon. Members opposite, and in particular whether we could adopt the method of shortness and precise definition, which was urged so often by Members opposite, and to put it all in the Bill instead of adopting the method of Orders in Council. I repeatedly explained how undesirable it was to adopt that method and pointed out that it would cause a great deal of trouble to Parliament without any corresponding advantage. As the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) suggested, we should have to include the whole of the Convention in the Bill. In that case the Bill would have to apply to U.N.O. alone, and where-ever there was a new organisation we should have to have another Bill. Again, if we found that we had made a mistake, then instead of dealing with it by Order in Council, we should have to bring in an amending Bill.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The right hon. Gentleman is going far outside the scope of this Debate. We can only discuss what is in the Bill.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I wanted to explain to hon. Members opposite that I had endeavoured to do what I had undertaken to do, but that we had come to the conclusion that it really was not worth while. I again say that we are not going to abuse this method of Orders in Council, which Parliament itself has set up in order to enable Governments to do exactly this sort of job. Parliament had just this kind of thing in mind, and all we are doing is to adopt this method. We pledge ourselves not to go in the smallest detail beyond the terms of the Convention, and I repeat my offer, if it is of any use to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that we will consult with them informally about the first Order in Council to be made under this Bill before it ever sees the light of day.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

The right hon. Gentleman has given to the House a number of assurances which we on this side regard as of very great importance. His assurance with regard to the International Court is, perhaps, the least important of all, but still it is important. I would like to say how much we welcome the undertaking that, if there is to be any great extension of privilege, the matter will be introduced in a Bill which we can, if necessary, amend, and not be dealt with by Order in Council under this Bill. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's statements as to the organisation under the 1944 Act, I must say that I did my best to follow what he read out. I wish that I had had an opportunity of considering the terms before, but as far as I can gather, they are entirely satisfac- tory, and I feel quite confident that they will be fully adhered to.

I must express regret that the Government did not introduce a Bill which, in terms, carried out the Convention, and no more. The right hon. Gentleman has said repeatedly that that would have been a most difficult matter. I do not believe it would have been difficult to do it in accordance with the Convention. I appreciate that the difficulty, such as it was, arose from the existence on the Statute Book of the 1944 Act, a Measure passed in war time, with a temporary period of existence, with the intention behind it that it would be carefully reconsidered at the end of five years. I think it would have been quite easy for the right hon. Gentleman to have introduced a Measure carrying out the Convention, and not building upon the 1944 Act, introducing a Measure which would not have involved all the time of this House that has been spent on this Measure, and all the controversy which has passed from one side to the other. Now we have this Bill. It goes beyond the Convention, and to that extent I must say that I regard it as a bad Bill, In so far as it complies with the terms of the Convention, I regard it as a good Bill; but I think that the right hon. Gentleman would have saved a great deal of time and trouble for himself if he had attempted the task of introducing a Bill which went no further than the Convention.

We shall watch the operation of this Bill with great interest, and we welcome the assurance that we shall be consulted as to the terms of the first Order in Council which is made under it. I hope that that procedure may perhaps be followed with subsequent Orders in Council, because, surely, the Government are not going to treat every organisation in exactly the same way. Above all, I ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he is dealing with Orders in Council under the Bill, to remember that the privileges conferred under the Bill are maximum and not minimum privileges in every case. I think I am right in saying—I hope I shall not be out of Order—that up till now the Orders in Council have been apt to give the maximum privilege under Part II and not to cut down or reduce that privilege. I think that is the case, although I may be wrong; but from my reading of the Orders, they simply say that there shall be given the privileges under Part II.

I want to say a final word with regard to the waiver of privilege. We note that under section 20 the privilege will be waived in any case where the immunity would impede the course of justice, and can be waived without prejudice to the interests of the United Nations. I hope that the United Nations will construe the latter phrase very narrowly and not widely. With regard to the other organisations in the Convention and the "waiver," I do express the sincere hope that they will be more ready to waive the immunity than to preserve it in the cases where any person covered by the privilege is sought to be brought within the operations of the matrimonial courts or any other courts in this country.

11.18 p.m.

Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)

We have now reached the closing stages of this Bill, and I wish to thank once more the right hon. Gentleman for the more accommodating spirit he has shown during its later phases. I think that he also must give some credit to the Opposition. It is very unusual on a Supply day, which is an Opposition day, to take business of this kind except by agreement. In all my time in the House I do not remember a Bill of this character being taken on a Supply day, with a recommittal to Committee, then the Report stage and the Third Reading. If we have agreed to this procedure, it is quite contrary to the whole tradition of the House of Commons, and I hope it is not a precedent which the Government will try to carry on.

Mr. Robens (Wansbeck)

On a point of Order. In view of the fact that none of the comments now being made are referred to in the Bill, is the right hon. Gentleman in Order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I must confess that at the moment I was not listening, but if I find that the right hon. Gentleman is out of Order I will pull him up.

Mr. Macmillan

I do not wish in any way to upset hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I think I was in Order, on the Third Reading, in making those observations. We on this side were trying to be helpful in this matter, but I repeat that it should not be regarded as a precedent that the Supply day should be used in this way. I am very glad to see that the Solicitor-General has just joined us for the Third Reading of this Bill, in its last stage, but I would remind the House of a remark addressed by Dr. Johnson to the Lord Chancellor of those days, that "had his intervention been timely it would have been more helpful," because there is nothing much at this stage of the Bill in which the Solicitor-General can help us.

The Deputy-Speaker

I fail to see any reference to the Solicitor-General in the Bill.

Mr. Macmillan

There is a good deal that implicates him in it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Get on with it."] If hon. Members opposite wish to delay, we are perfectly willing to stay here. I would point out to them that if they will only try to give more credit to the Opposition for their efforts to help, the more they will be able to get on. This Bill was opposed by us on the Second Reading. We did that because we did not think that the Government produced arguments to warrant our support. Since that time, I think, the second thoughts of the right hon. Gentleman, not assisted by the Leader of the House—who, incidentally, never comes to the House at all nowadays, and for that reason there is all the more credit to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill—his second thoughts have led to the acceptance of a large number of points and, have led to a great improvement in the Bill.

When Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, he allowed the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement on the Third Reading regarding assurances in connection with the Bill, which assurances the right hon. Gentleman read out to us. Those assurances are in the Bill, in the sense that they are assurances by the Government as to the method by which they propose to operate their rights under the Bill. To those assurances we attach the greatest importance. We are very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having given such thought to them. They amply carry out all the undertakings which he was good enough to give myself and my hon. Friends on the Report stage and on the Committee stage. I have refreshed my memory, and I wish to say that he has carried them out handsomely. What he has said about consulting us over the drafting of Orders in Council might, I think, be a valuable cooperation on matters of this kind, which really must be of national importance, between the Government and the Opposition of the day, and would very much ease that rather complicated procedure. Therefore, in the light of the Amendments which he has made to the Bill, of the assurances which he has given in the course of the passage of the Bill, of the chastened spirit and more reasonable attitude which the Government have adopted in face of the criticisms which we thought it right to make, and above all in the light of the specific assurances which the right hon Gentleman read to us tonight—which I know are not legally binding, but are morally binding, and will certainly be carried out by himself and his successors—I think I can advise my hon. and right hon. Friends not to oppose the Third Reading of this Bill.