HC Deb 10 July 1950 vol 477 cc1085-94

9.46 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 42, to leave out from "the," to the end of line 43, and to add: Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) (No. 2) Act, 1950. It would be odd indeed if we passed the Bill without some little discussion, as no Bill bearing this Title has been before the House on any previous occasion. The Bill purports to be a consolidation Bill, but we have not had before us under consideration in this House any Bill with this very unusual Title. The Acts of Parliament which the Bill purports to consolidate are all called Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Acts and when they were before the House they were called Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Bills, and those titles were very apt indeed, as the object of the Bills was to extend to individuals and to international organisations certain diplomatic immunities which are more particularly specified in the Schedule to the Bill now under consideration.

Prior to the passage of the Consolidation of Enactments Act, 1949, it was not possible in the process of consolidation to make any alteration whatsoever of the existing law, and one of the main arguments for the Consolidation of Enactments Bill being passed through the House was that it would enable minor anomalies and differences between the Acts which it was intended to consolidate to be ironed out. This Bill, which purports to be a consolidation Measure, does not purport to have been made under the Consolidation of Enactments Act, and therefore, if the Bill is to be regarded as a consolidation Bill it cannot alter the law as laid down in the three preceding Acts which it is intended to consolidate.

The question of the Title of this Bill was raised during its consideration by the Consolidation Committee. It appears to have been the view there that it was not within the power of that Committee to alter the title of the Bill to depart from the titles of the three preceding Acts, the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Acts. In spite of that expression of opinion, however, they reported that the Bill itself was a consolidation Bill notwithstanding its new title.

I take the view that the titles which were considered apt for the three preceding Acts are the better titles and I stress this argument, that when people have been accustomed to refer to the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Act of either 1944, 1946 or 1950, it is rather inconvenient to change the Title of the Act which consolidates those three Measures. For the ordinary practitioner it would be much more convenient to retain in the consolidation Act the Title used in the Acts which it is consolidating.

I therefore ask the Government to say that they will accept this Amendment. It does not affect the operation of the Bill but, if accepted, it will make it much easier for people familiar with the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Acts to find this Bill when it becomes an Act. It will be much easier for practitioners, and also it is a much more accurate description of what this Bill does—namely, it extends diplomatic privileges to various organisations and individuals.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Davies)

I much regret that the Government are unable to concede the Amendment. This is, as the hon. and learned Member has pointed out, a consolidation Bill. It was so reported on by the Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons, and it was there stated that the Committee were of the opinion that the Bill was pure consolidation and represented the existing law. Also, the Speaker ruled on Friday last that this was purported to be a consolidation Bill.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

The Speaker, if the hon. Gentleman will refer to what he said, said that it was purported to be a consolidation Bill; he did not say that it was.

Mr. Davies

The reason why the Title has been changed can be learned from the history of these Measures. The first Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Act was passed in 1941. It covered the question of the diplomatic privileges to be granted to the allied foreign Governments in exile in London and is no longer in force. The subsequent Acts took the same title as the 1941 Act although they covered to the larger extent different matters. The 1944 Act referred back to the 1941 Act in one particular. Both the 1944 and the 1946 Acts, however, and ultimately, of course, the 1950 Act, which was passed only a short time ago, referred to international organisations and conferences and did not cover the question of diplomatic privileges and immunities as conferred on individuals who are normally accepted as diplomats. As the hon. and learned Member is aware, the second Act dealt mainly with such organisations as U.N.R.R.A., the 1946 Act with the United Nations organisation, and the 1950 Act with the Council of Europe.

The 1941 Act has now expired, and with it has expired also the provision in the 1944 Act which referred back to the Act of 1941. The 1946 Act extensively amended the 1944 Act and conferred many privileges upon international organisations which we do not consider to be properly described as diplomatic privileges. I could give the same instance as was given in the Joint Committee—the question of the dispatch of telegrams at Press rates; and there are other matters where privileges are conferred which are not normally the privileges conferred upon the members of diplomatic missions here in London.

Therefore, we consider that now to talk solely of the extension of diplomatic privileges is not quite accurate and that the proper description for the matters which are covered by this consolidated Measure is that which is given to the Bill. This Title, in our view, better describes the purpose, as the Bill provides for immunities and privileges to staff of organisations and to persons attending their meetings. It does not extend to members of diplomatic missions in this capital.

I cannot quite agree with the hon. and learned Member that this will make difficulties for the ordinary practitioner because the Title has changed. After all, a consolidating Act supersedes the Acts which it consolidates, and we cannot quite see where the difficulty will arise as far as that is concerned. As the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, the legal effect is precisely the same, whatever the Title of the Bill. The change of Title has no effect whatever upon the contents of the Bill, its objective or its enforcement. Therefore, we feel that to argue about the Title at this stage is largely an academic matter.

The present short Title, as was pointed out by the Joint Committee, which was quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, was preferred by Parliamentary Counsel. It has been preferred also by the Department I represent, as in our view it more accurately describes the Bill. There is nothing more in it than that. It simply attempts to describe a Bill in the way in which it would be better understood by those concerned with it. The Title could not have been used earlier, because the history of these Acts has been one where they were derived from diplomatic immunity and privilege, whereas that has now been superseded by the question of extending privileges to members of international organisations. A certain amount of confusion might arise if we retained the original Title, and we think that in this way we are putting an end to that confusion.

There are many precedents for the changing of a Title on consolidation. It is not an unusual matter to change the title of an Act or Acts when they are consolidated.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

What was the last one?

Mr. Davies

The one which I have looked up was the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] This House has a longer history than that, and precedents go back quite a long way before then. The Acts which the one I have quoted superseded were the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Acts, 1878 and 1884, the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Transfer of Parts of Districts Act, 1884, and others, and the Board of Agriculture Act, 1889, was included. So it can be seen that this is no new move on the part of the Government.

10.0 p.m.

I also suggest to the hon. and learned Member that when we moved the Second Reading of the 1950 Bill, we stated we should consolidate and I would remind the hon. and learned Member of the words he used: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's observations about consolidation. The case for a consolidation Measure will certainly arise immediately upon the passage of this Bill. I hope that consolidation will be done very promptly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1420.] We have proceeded with considerable promptitude over the consolidation of the Measures and I feel sure the hon. and learned Member does not wish any longer to delay it.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that one of the principal difficulties about an objection to changing the Title is that many of the amenities and privileges specified in the Schedule to apply to the various individuals covered by the international organisations are in many respects almost exactly similar, in fact in some cases exactly the same, as those granted to members of a foreign diplomatic mission in London?

Mr. Davies

It is perfectly true that some of the privileges so conferred are similar to those conferred on diplomatic representatives, but we do not consider that because certain of them may apply they are the maximum which can apply—and in very few cases are the maximum privileges likely to be conferred—and that that justifies calling the Act the Diplomatic Privileges Act. Those extended to organisations are to a large extent different from the maximum privileges.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

Would it be convenient to point out which of the privileges conferred in the Schedule, other than the privilege in relation to the telegraphic communications to which the hon. Gentleman referred, are not privileges of the same character as those conferred normally on diplomatic persons?

Mr. Davies

I do not think the hon. and learned Member has it quite clear as regards the purpose of the Schedule and the purpose of the Measure. The Measure provides that privileges or im- menities can be conferred upon international organisations to the extent that we are required to grant those privileges according to international agreements made in connection with those organisations, and we have included in the Schedule the maximum which we think is likely to arise in any case under any such international agreement.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

What ever is in the Schedule or is not in the Schedule I take it is in the existing Acts because this is a Consolidation Bill and, therefore, the Government are not adding anything to or detracting anything from what the House has already passed, but I do not think we should allow the occasion to pass without a further protest against the change in the Title of the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman said there was a precedent in 1894, but that does not seem to have any relevance to these Acts because the Title of the Diseases of Animals Acts was for a series of Acts which dealt with that topic but had different Titles. Therefore, in order to consolidate them, they had to have a new Title when consolidating four or five Measures dealing with the same topic under different names. That is not the case here at all. Here we are consolidating Acts all of which have the same name and one of which was passed this year. If the Government felt the Title was wrong, the time at which to make the change was when they introduced the last effective Bill dealing with this topic.

They did not do that, but they put it to the Select Committee on Consolidation Bills that the Title should be changed now. I think this is something new, in spite of the 1894 precedent, which I do not think is relevant at all. If there are any later precedents, I hope the hon. Gentleman will tell us, and then we can judge whether this is in line with anything the House has done before. We naturally trust the Select Committee of Lords and Commons which deals with Consolidation Measures that they do not let anything slip in which does not deal with consolidation.

This point was not brought in under that procedure at all; this was merely a proposal. I have had a glance at the Committee's Report. The Government, for reasons best known to themselves, some of which the hon. Gentleman has explained to us, and which do not seem to affect the issue at all, thought that the Title ought to be changed because this Bill did not deal with what are normally known as diplomats. I think that is the trouble. The original Act dealt with diplomats whose Governments were exiled.

Since then the provisions of the subsequent Acts of Parliament have extended the scope to people who in the narrow sense of the word are not called diplomats and are not accredited to the Court of St. James. The Government think that because this Bill is extended to those people its Title should be altered. Whether it should or should not be is arguable, but it is a bad precedent that that should be done on what is purely a consolidation Measure. If the Government thought that the Title should be changed, they had the opportunity to do so within the last 12 months, when they brought in the last amending Act.

Captain Duncan (Angus, South)

All those later Bills from 1944 to 1950 were Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Acts. If we wish to retain the old Title in the present Bill, it should be called the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Consolidation Act. That is the trouble which we had on the Joint Select Committee. After considerable discussion, the Committee came to a decision without a Division. Perhaps I might read one sentence out of the Report of the Joint Select Committee. The chairman said: I propose to move that this he the Title of the Bill. In spite of the discussion which had taken place it will be noted that the Report says: The same is agreed to.

Captain Crookshank

I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend. His support in aid of the Government shows that this is a House of Commons matter and not a party matter. My hon. and gallant Friend happens to take a view different from mine. I think that the proper procedure would have been to have adopted my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment, which would have made the matter perfectly clear. While I am not a lawyer, and while I do not have to study the books as a professional matter, I realise that it could be quite awkward for some. people who were trying to work out what had happened under the earlier Acts, to discover that those Acts had been merged in a Consolidation Act under another Title.

The Government seem firm about wanting to proceed with the present Title and about not wishing to accept the Amendment. If that be the will of the Government, it will have to happen tonight, but I still wish to make a protest. It should not be treated as a precedent by any manner of means, and it should be made quite clear to those of our colleagues in both Houses and of all parties who sit on Consolidation Committees that it is not their function to change the Titles of Bills. If the Titles of Bills are to be changed, it is for the Government of the day to move a proper Amendment at the proper time.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.