HC Deb 19 July 1950 vol 477 cc2397-424

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges of the Universal Postal Union) Order in Council, 1950, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 12th July."—[Mr. Younger.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I think it is a generally accepted principle that the law should not be changed except to meet a clear and present need. We do not legislate for future contingencies or for a hypothetical uniformity. We change the law to meet a need. By this Order we shall be changing the law in this country in regard to certain persons connected with the Universal Postal Union; and the first question which, I submit, the House has to consider is, whether there is any practical need for that change in the law.

The Universal Postal Union has been in existence since 1874. It may be, and if it is the case then I think the Minister of State should inform the House, that the lack of these immunities and priviliges in the past has been found a hindrance to the work of the Universal Postal Union. If it has been so, I must say that I have failed to ascertain how that has been. To narrow the scope of the question, for some months, in fact for more than a year past, the Universal Postal Union has acceded to the Convention in implementation of which this Order is made. Yet the Government have for 15 months not come before this House to ask that an Order on these lines should be made. I would therefore ask the Minister of State a second question, whether, in those 15 months, any inconvenience has been experienced by the Universal Postal Union from the lack of these privileges and immunities. If such a case cannot be made out, then I think the House should hesitate before it extends the existing scope of diplomatic privileges and immunities.

Not only is such an extension in that case unnecessary, but an extension is a positive disadvantage. All of us at this time are very disturbed at the general decline in respect in many countries of the world for ambassadorial status, for the old diplomatic rights and privileges which were observed in the past throughout the civilised world. That standard of conduct has catastrophically declined in many parts of the world in the last few years. At the same time we are constantly increasing the ambit of diplomatic privilege; and every step we take to increase the number of people entitled to these immunities increases the temptation to devalue the immunities. I therefore make this first point about the disadvantages of extending the scope, namely, that every time we extend these privileges we devalue them.

We have also to consider the effect upon our own public at home. After all, it is a truism that every privilege conferred upon one person is a disadvantage put upon all others, because that person is placed in a superior position to all the rest. While I am sure that the public understand and appreciate the necessity for diplomatic representatives of Governments to have a special position and a position reciprocally acknowledged, or which ought to be acknowledged, I think it will be increasingly difficult to make the public understand why these privileges should be accorded to an ever-increasing horde, or host, of international bureaucrats. We have to take into account in these matters the opinion of our own people.

I ventured to use the expression, "international bureaucrats," We are build- ing up, by orders of this sort, a constantly growing class not of United Kingdom bureaucrats but of international bureaucrats—a kind of super-bureaucracy attached to these various international organisations. Whatever view one may hold of these organisations themselves, we must be most cautious in asserting that their officials and representatives are, as such, entitled to diplomatic privileges upon their occasions.

We shall probably be told that, whatever force there may be in the observations which I have made, they are made too late in the day; that the Convention under which this Order is made was ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations organisation in, I think, November, 1947; that our own representative on that occasion assented to it and, therefore, that this House is bound to implement that Convention. But that argument cannot be pressed too far. From the Convention printed in Cmd. Paper 7673, it will be seen that two conditions must be satisfied before any of these specialised agencies can enjoy these privileges. That specialised agency—which, before it becomes such, must have made a treaty with the United Nations organisation under the auspices of U.N.E.S.C.O.—must accede to the Convention. Secondly, each country concerned must ratify the Convention in respect of that specialised agency.

Therefore, I submit that this House has a free decision in front of it. We are not committed in advance, in respect of these specialised agencies, by this Convention. We are entitled to take each case upon its merits, and that is what I think we ought to do most critically in this instance.

It is true that, by acceding to the Convention in which at least 10 of these specialised agencies, including the Universal Postal Union, were already set out, perhaps a prima facie case was made that, when they acceded, the Convention would be ratified in regard to each of them. But if we accept that Convention as a carte blanche given to these agencies, to expect that merely by their acceding to the Convention this House will automatically pass the necessary Orders, then we are willing away part of the sovereignty of Parliament which we ought to retain.

I maintain, first, that this House has an open question before it, which is whether this Convention ought to be ratified—and the Order is designed to make that ratification possible—in respect of the Universal Postal Union. Second, unless the Minister can show that there is a real and present need for these immunities and privileges in respect of this agency, then they should be refused.

10.10 p.m.

The Minister of State (Mr. Younger)

This House, rightly I think, has been jealous of the extension of diplomatic privileges to any new class of persons. Since 1944, we have had three separate Acts, and, finally, a consolidating Act of 1950 to consolidate the law in this respect. This Order—with the Order to which the House has just agreed—is the first to be made under the new consolidating Act. There can be no question at all that the House has a free discretion in this matter whether to grant this Order or not.

I was asked whether there was any practicable need for it. The fact is, and this would have been true also of the previous Order, relating to the Council of Europe, that, because the great majority of these international organisations have their permanent seats abroad, because their secretariats are permanently lodged abroad and because the great majority of their conferences take place abroad, by granting privileges to them in this country, we are granting very little. There are practically no people involved, there are very few meetings of the bodies involved, there may, at the most, be some subsidiary offices of the organisation which may have their seat in London. But, the privileges granted in cases of this kind are reciprocal. They are privileges granted by one country on the understanding that they will be granted by all the other member countries, and the privileges are very real and necessary when one considers the country in which the organisation is situated.

After the war, when a large number of new international organisations of all kinds were springing up, it was thought desirable that the question of the privileges to be granted to them should be, as far as possible, consolidated and put upon a rational basis. It was for that reason that the Convention to which the hon. Gentleman referred was adopted in November, 1947, by the General Assembly of the United Nations—a Convention which was to be applicable to a whole range of organisations. It only became applicable if the procedure laid down in the Convention was followed. That procedure has been followed and the Convention has become applicable to the Universal Postal Union, which is an organisation long ante-dating the United Nations itself.

All hon. Members who have looked at the privileges and immunities sought to be granted will realise that it is necessary that some provisions of this kind should be made if international organisations are to function adequately. They would be applicable to France in the case of the Council of Europe and to Switzerland in the case of the Universal Postal Union. It is absolutely necessary, as a condition of having these very necessary privileges granted, that all other members should be prepared to give reciprocity, and I think that is a sound and reasonable principle.

It will be remembered that, when the 1950 Diplomatic Privileges Act was passing through the House, it was agreed that, in Orders which might subsequently be made, the privileges and immunities granted should not go beyond what it was necessary to grant for the carrying out of the international obligation. That is what we are seeking to do in this case, as in the case of the previous Order to which the House has just agreed, and I hope that, with that explanation, the House will be prepared to agree to this Order.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

I really think that the explanation of this Order given by the Minister of State is very unsatisfactory indeed. The right hon. Gentleman has talked a great deal about the Council of Europe and the various Acts of Parliament which have, in recent years, extended diplomatic privilege, but, so far, he has made out no case whatever for extending diplomatic privileges and immunities to an organisation that has been in existence for about 75 years, and which, until recently, apparently, never felt the need for any diplomatic privileges and immunities.

One of the things which historians might note in years to come, when they are dispassionately recording the record of the party opposite since 1945, may be the very great increase indeed in the number of persons entitled to enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities since 1945 in the era of Socialist misrule in this country. We are now asked to consent to the extension of diplomatic privileges and immunities to the Universal Postal Union, and in making out the cast for this Order, the hon. Gentleman did not put forward a single cogent and convincing argument why the Universal Postal Union should now have privileges which, in the whole of its long history, it has not found necessary at all. We are not really discussing here the Council of Europe. We discussed that quite recently, and that Order has been made.

I must confess that while I was glad that the Minister of State got up fairly early in this Debate, I should have thought that he would have taken the first opportunity of explaining to the House what this Order did—for, after all, it is subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure—and making out the case for giving the diplomatic privileges to the Universal Postal Union. That is a long-established body, and I know it has done most useful work. It has, I believe, an international office at Berne. In the past, it has held a number of congresses and a number of conferences, of which, I think the most recent was in 1947.

I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether any difficulty has been experienced in all those long years, in connection with any of these conferences or congresses, owing to the absence of diplomatic privilege and immunity. I know that this Universal Postal Union has done most useful work, but will the hon. Gentleman say what has happened to make it necessary now that these privileges and immunities should be granted. What new factor has arisen upon the scene?

I would ask the House to examine for a moment to what exactly it is being asked to agree. It is, to agree to the Universal Postal Union having the like inviolability of the official archives and premises occupied as offices as is accorded in respect of the official archives and premises of an envoy of a foreign sovereign Power accredited to His Majesty, and to agree that the Union shall have the like exemption or relief from taxes and rates other than taxes on the importation of goods, as is accorded to a foreign sovereign Power. Dealing with the representatives, the House will see from this Order that the term "representatives" includes:

Alternate representatives, advisers, technical experts, secretaries of delegations and that representatives at Congresses, on the Executive and Liaison Commission, at administrative Congresses and on commissions of the Union shall enjoy:— (a) While exercising their functions as such and during their journeys to and from the place of meeting, immunity from personal arrest or detention and from seizure of their personal baggage and inviolability for all papers and documents. (b) Immunity from legal process of every kind in respect of words spoken or written and all acts done by them in their capacity as representatives. I do not propose to read out the whole list—it is a fairly long one—of privileges which, under this Order, are to be granted to the Universal Postal Union and its representatives, but I think it is worthy of note that the Director of the International Bureau is to be accorded

in respect of himself, his spouse and minor children, the like immunity from suit and legal process, the like inviolability of residence as is accorded to the envoy of a foreign Power accredited to His Majesty, his spouse and children and exemption from income tax in respect of emoluments received by him as an officer of the Union. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to come here and tell us that we are really granting very little. In fact, it may be that few people will, if this Order is passed, enjoy these privileges in this country. But, in fact, the hon. Gentleman is asking this House to grant a great deal, and without making any case whatsoever for doing so.

How many people does he estimate will be able to take advantage of the privileges conferred by this? What is the staff of the Union, how many representatives are there? We know that Russia, the Ukraine, and White Russia are members. Under this, we give privileges and immunities to their representatives. What is the case for doing this? It has not been made out. If this Union has been able to carry on and function most successfully, as it has done until 1950, without any of these privileges, it is incumbent upon the hon. Gentleman to justify, more fully than he has done the change it is now proposed to make.

There has been this very vast extension, and it seems to have become a custom or fashion now, as soon as an international organisation is formed, to seek to get attached to some parent body, like the United Nations, and, immediately afterwards, as a matter of status, to come along and ask for all kinds of diplomatic privileges and immunities in this country. We ought to demand a further explanation from the hon. Gentleman, and a further justification for this Order. As he says, the matter is in the free discretion of the House. We ought to be very careful indeed that these privileges are really required for the proper use and discharge of the functions of this Union before we grant them.

It may well be—one does not know —that the next Order we shall find is one for the International Bar Association, or for the International Federation of Trade Unions. Really, this is getting beyond all limits; and I suggest it is not enough for the hon. Gentleman just to come here and ask the House to approve the granting of extensive diplomatic privileges, merely by putting forward the sort of arguments he did this evening.

I hope he will be able to convince us that a case for this Order really does exist. It is not enough to say, "Well, after all, these privileges are reciprocal, and these congresses usually meet in Switzerland and the staff is in Switzerland," unless he goes further and says that these diplomatic privileges are really necessary, and must be enjoyed in Switzerland if the Union is not to be impeded in the exercise of its functions.

I have been critical of this Order. This is not the first time I have had to be critical of extensions of diplomatic privileges. At the same time I hope the hon. Gentleman will satisfy the House that this Order is necessary, by making out a much better case than he has made out so far.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

When the Minister of State moved this Motion with that nod which is, I think, the best argument that the Government now use, I thought there was little case for this Order. When, after he was asked for an explanation, the Minister of State gave his explanation, I was even more convinced that there was absolutely no case at all for the Order.

The Minister of State saw fit to use the oldest and the worst Parliamentary argument—the argument that this was a very small matter and that there were very few individuals affected and, therefore, it did not matter. That is a thoroughly bad argument, because, of course, it is a completely reversible argument. If it is a small matter, and few people are affected, why take this step at all? Why bother to confer these privileges? That is a particularly relevant consideration when what we are asked to do, while its practical effects may be large or small, is something which does affect very considerable issues of principle. If, therefore, we are concerned, as the Minister of State has told us, with very small practical considerations and with very few people, then surely that is an irresistible argument why we should not introduce this change into an already over-strained law of diplomatic privilege.

Mr. Younger

I do not think I put it quite in that form. What I said was that we were granting relatively few privileges in practice. I did not say that it was at all unimportant that privileges should be granted in the country where these organisations principally operate. What I did was to point out that we can only get those privileges, which may be very important from a practical point of view, if all the members grant reciprocity.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I fully appreciate that. But the hon. Gentleman said that we were granting very little, and that very few individuals were involved. That, of course, is the classical servant girl's baby argument, and I do not think it has been improved to any degree by what the hon. Gentleman has just said. What we are being asked to do, while it may affect very few individuals in this country, is further to inflate the already over-inflated amount of diplomatic privilege which is now conceded. As any hon. Member knows who leaves the precints of this Palace, he always has great difficulty in preventing himself from being run over by a motorcar with a C.D. plate upon it.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I only hope that the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for these motor cars will not involve him in an accident which would cause a by-election which, for personal reasons, hon. Members on this side of the House and for political reasons hon. Members on the opposite side would regret.

The Minister of State used another argument. He said that if this very important international organisation was to continue to function—I took down his words—it was necessary that some provisions of this sort should be made. Why? In fact, this international organisation, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has said, has functioned for 76 years and there is no hon. Member who would say that the postal services, national or international, have improved in recent years. If this international organisation could operate with greater efficiency than it is operating nowadays without these privileges, why on earth have some such privileges as these, according to the Minister of State, now to be given? He referred to "some such privileges." Surely, when we are being asked to exempt people from the ordinary law of this country, it is not good enough to say that something of the sort is needed. Surely it is essential that the Minister should point out precisely what are the practical things which are needed, and then concede them, and no more.

The Minister of State has not bothered to tell us from a practical point of view what the necessities are. Having great respect for his debating ability, I think the hon. Gentleman has not done so because he knows there are no practical necessities. I believe the real truth of the matter is that the Government have entered into the obligations of the Convention, as they have entered into the obligations of so many others, without really seriously thinking of the consequences, and now the bill is presented and the House of Commons is expected to honour it.

When we look at what it is proposed actually to do, it does not appear to be quite so small a matter as the Minister suggests. If hon. Members will look at paragraph 8 of the Order, relating to high officials of the Union, they will see that it appears that we are being asked to confer upon high officials of this Union the full immunities which are given, and have been given under custom of considerable age, to ambassadors at the Court of St. James—that is, special immunities specially and properly given to protect the direct representative of a foreign Power at His Majesty's Court. Those in-the-past jealously-guarded prerogatives are now to be given to high officials of the Union, involving as they do not only complete inviolability of person and premises but also protection from Income Tax upon official emoluments.

Is it seriously suggested that the absence of these considerable privileges will seriously handicap the working of the Universal Postal Union? If that is seriously suggested, it has not yet been said. If the Minister cares at a later stage, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to tell us, we will listen to his argument; but, in the absence of some evidence to the contrary, it seems ludicrous to suggest that it is necessary to create these kinds of crypto-ambassadors in order to see that the international postal services operate.

One other angle was touched upon by my hon. and learned Friend. In these days we are naturally concerned with security considerations. Every additional step for conferring immunity from the ordinary law of the land upon persons, whether British subjects or foreign ones, must be looked at from the security angle, as I am certain the Home Secretary does look on these matters. After the experiences we have had in this country in the last few months, surely it is right for the House to look cautiously on the possibility of conferring protection from the ordinary law on persons who may be here apparently for one purpose but who might be concerned to take action hostile to the national interest while they are here.

It is wise to be strict and to limit the conferring of these privileges to people for whom they are essential—the real representatives of sovereign States in this country. It is wise to say to the Universal Postal Union, "We appreciate your work; we think you have done very well in the last 76 years, and if you carry on along the same lines and with the same absence of privilege you have had in the last 76 years, we shall have no complaint." I suggest that no case whatever has been made for this further step to create privileged people inside this country. I suggest that it is a harmful and dangerous proposal. No argument has been adduced for going further with it and, in accord- ante with the ordinary custom and attitude of this House, where no case is made out for exempting persons from the operations of the law it is better to let the law apply.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Woods (Droylsden)

It is rather entertaining to hon. Members on this side to hear hon. Members opposite condemning privilege, when most of us have long memories of their constant fight for privilege. I am not surprised. Behind this is a vital dividing line between the two sides of the House. The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) was careful to pay tribute to the Universal Postal Union and to the work it has done; but I suggest that any of the responsible and efficient officials and servants of that organisation would not be pleased to hear themselves described by responsible representatives of the British people as "world bureaucrats," and as "cryptoambassadors," and to hear the suggestion that they could not be trusted and that their work, after all, is mundane and unimportant.

To say that sort of thing is not a service to this country or to internationalism. It is conceded by the Opposition that representatives of foreign Governments—Russia and other countries for which they have no affection have been mentioned—are here and enjoy certain privileges that we accord to such honourable guests. The day has arrived when many realise that over and above nationalism, there must be efficient international organisation. That cannot be facilitated unless the recommendations of this Convention, which have been approved by the United Nations organisation, are endorsed as being applicable to this country.

The situation is that this organisation has the most honourable record of service to international purposes and to mankind as a whole, irrespective of nationality, of any organisation in existence. The fact that it has done such efficient service over all these years and secured the possibility of communication right round the planet, is something about which we should rejoice.

All the countries of the world recognise it was this little old country of ours that gave to the world penny postage. Long before the present Government came into office, after the First World War it was found necessary to pay the cost of that war, and one way to pay it was by increased charges for postal services. Long before we came into office, the penny postage had gone; but the principle remains, and I suggest that the 2½d. paid today is equivalent, roughly speaking, to the penny of the days of Rowland Hill. But that is merely trying to get away from the main issue confronting this House. [Laughter.] I have always noticed, in my long experience in the House, that when the Opposition are in a bad hole, and have a very feeble case, they try to cover that up by inane laughter.

Certainly, we feel very strongly that the day has arrived when international organisations have to be recognised as superseding, in the main, mere national organisations. If we can concede such a privilege to the representatives of one nation, the day has arrived when, under this Order we ought to concede the same privilege to representatives of the Universal Postal Union. Let us come to the practical issue. There is no country in the world where it would be more appropriate to hold a congress of the Universal Postal Union than Britain. In practically any country in the world, what is being asked for here would be granted to the officials of that organisation. If it goes forth that by a decision of this House there is to be no such recognition in this country of the importance and status of this organisation, we may invite it to hold its congress in Britain, but that will never be done while such disrespect is shown to the organisation. If there is to be a congress of that organisation in this country, it will, only come to pass if we play the game, as other countries do, and recognise the importance to the modern world of such an organisation.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

I did not understand that any of my hon. Friends had cast the slightest discredit upon, or imputed the slightest distrust of, any of the officials of the Universal Postal Union. What the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. Woods) does not realise, in discussing this matter, is that many people who are doing work of the highest importance, and whose integrity is beyond doubt, are asked to do that work and to carry on their functions under the ordinary law of their countries. Their very integrity makes it all the easier for them to do so. What the Minister of State entirely failed to point out, as my hon. Friends have indicated, was any reason why these privileges should be essential, or even very important, in the country in which the conference or congress is held.

The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) referred to the fact that in the last 76 years a great many conferences and congresses of this body have been held—I think altogether there have been 20 of them. One would at least have expected the Minister of State to refer to some inconvenience or friction which had occurred in the past through lack of the immunities and privileges for which he is asking tonight; but there was no such reference in his speech.

He said that by this Order we should be granting very little, and I think he implied, that it was a rather good move because we should be getting more than we gave. Perhaps I misunderstood his argument, but he seemed to me to imply that. If the great advantage to be derived from making this Order is the making of a similar order by other countries—I do not accept for a moment the legitimacy of that argument as addressed to this House, but if it is the argument—then I think the Minister of State should have supported it by facts showing why the Universal Postal Union cannot carry out its functions at conferences and in between them in the countries of Europe without enjoying the privileges of ambassadors.

There is a fundamental distinction between the Union and an ambassador, or any other kind of envoy, who is the projection into the country to which he is accredited, of the sovereignty of the country which he represents. It is right that he should enjoy personal immunities and privileges and secret communications with the country whose interests he is protecting. But why should the Universal Postal Union, which is the general international liaison body for national posts, and which arranges the transit of letters and parcels and telegraphic communications, have these immunities? Which of its functions cannot the Universal Postal Union easily carry out in the light of day, and without any immunity from the law of the different countries with which it is concerned?

The hon. Member for Droylsden said he was surprised to hear us on this side of the House denouncing the extension of privilege. He may remember that the present Minister of Health, when the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Act, 1944. was before the House, expressed his surprise that the then Government took so low a view of our system of jurisprudence that they wished to confine its benefits to so few people. In fact, what we on this side of the House are attacking is the creation of an entirely new and damaging form of privilege that is becoming endemic in public life today, and that is official privilege—the privilege of a new official class. My hon. and learned Friend very rightly referred to the growth of an international bureaucracy. The truth is that this Order is being brought forward as a matter of course. It is assumed that everybody who has some connection with the United Nations, which constitutes an international officialdom, ought to enjoy this new official status of privileged immunity.

There is, indeed, as my hon. and learned Friend said, a real danger that we shall see the gradual enlargement and debasement of present diplomatic privilege into a general official superiority. I am sure that the Government would be as sorry to see that as would anybody else. My hon. and learned Friend referred to paragraph 8 of this Order. I draw the attention of the House to paragraph 9, from which it appears that we are not merely granting these privileges and immunities to an extended number of people but even to an indefinite class of people, because in that paragraph we extend privilege and immunity to all officials of the International Bureau of the categories specified by the Director. So we are conferring upon the Director of the Universal Postal Union a delegated authority to confer a degree of diplomatic privilege upon his officials.

1 agree that it is one of the lower orders of diplomatic privilege; it is not the full ambassadorial extent; but these things do begin in a small way, and each thing does become a precedent for further extensions, and I think it most dangerous that this House should approve an Order that confers delegated authority to grant diplomatic privilege upon the head of some international organisation. If we are going to do it, all the categories should be closely defined and limited, so that, for example, a British court should not be placed in the difficulty of having to find out which categories the Director of the Bureau has. in fact, specified.

I therefore ask the House to treat this matter as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked that it should be treated, as a question of principle. We are here making a dangerous extension from the truly diplomatic class to the bureaucratic class of international official, and if we once embark upon that dangerous road we shall be constantly bound, by the precedents we have created to a progressive debasement of what is at present a valuable privilege.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

If it were only a matter of one or two officials of this particular organisation, I should not think it right to take up any time of the House on this matter, but when we look at the Explanatory Note—which is rather more explanatory than the explanation given by the hon. Gentleman—we find that the question of principle emerges rather clearly, because it is there stated that the reason for this Order is that we are here dealing with what is called a "specialised agency". This is the first time that such a thing has been considered. On the previous Order we were dealing with a very different matter; we were dealing there with the Council of Europe. It does seem that we are entitled to a very clear explanation of the lines upon which the Government intend to proceed.

I have had the curiosity to try to find out what a "specialised agency" is, and on reference to the Charter of the United Nations I find that it is an extremely vague thing. It is Any agency established by inter-governmental agreement, and having wide international responsibilities, which enters into an agreement with the United Nations"— and particularly with U.N.E.S.C.O. Having regard to what we have learned that U.N.E.S.C.O. has been doing recently —as some articles in the "Manchester Guardian" disclose in rather an inter- esting way—one appreciates that there may be all sorts of curious organisations which become embroiled in U.N.E.S.C.O.

If this Order is made without any careful consideration, there is not the slightest justification for refusing the same privileges to some other people who live, I believe, in the same street in Berne. The International Union for the Protection of Industrial Property and the International Copyright Union—almost identical organisations with this—both have their offices in Berne. What justification is there for refusing them these privileges? There is none—unless the Minister of State can lay down, as he should, certain principles and reasons which necessitate giving these privileges to one of these bodies and justify us in refusing them to others. If the matter had been dealt with in that way, if we had been told that there were certain really good reasons why the Universal Postal Union ought to have these privileges, then I should myself find it difficult to object. But we have been given no such reasons.

I suggest the only reason that emerges is simply this: that His Majesty's Government are taking, quite broadly and quite literally, what is said in these conventions. They say: "There is reference in the United Nations Charter to specialised agencies. Well, this is a specialised agency, so we must give it immunity"—and that will apply to every single one. If that is the position that is taken up, I feel bound to oppose this Motion, not with the slightest objection to the Universal Postal Union—a reason for which the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. Woods) was so annoyed with us, although there is no such approach in my mind—but simply on the question of principle: that unless some good reason is given for giving this body exceptional privileges, it should not be accepted.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich, South)

I was sorry that the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. Woods) made the speech he did. I was sorry for this reason: that I honestly believed, and I still believe—and I hope that he will preserve an open mind until he has heard the whole of my argument—that there is no reason why there should be any difference between the two sides of the House upon this occasion.

The hon. Member for Droylsden expressed some astonishment that this side of the House was objecting to privilege. I think his astonishment was groundless, but perhaps he would allow me to express my astonishment that Socialists should be openly advocating privilege. It used to be characteristic of the Left to say—this was one of the worthier arguments they put forward—that privilege was a wrong thing, that people should be equal before the law. Why should they suddenly turn round tonight and say that, unless we grant privilege to some people, we are insulting them?

Was there ever a more absurd argument? Is it really a mark of the progress of international relations that more and more people should be placed above the law? Hon. Members opposite often say that what they want is an extension of the rule of law, yet tonight they come without any argument at all, as far as I know, and say, "You must extend immunity from the process of law"—does the hon. Gentleman wish to interrupt?

Mr. Speaker

I hope this argument will not be pursued much further. It was only a slight reference and we must dis. cuss the Order and not the ethics of international relations.

Mr. Woods

My reference was actually to what was stated concerning the officials and the description given from those Benches. We are not standing for privilege, but we should act decently and give hospitality in a proper way to an international organisation.

Mr. Strauss

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Of course we should treat all these people hospitably. Of course we should be polite to them. Of course we approve of the Universal Postal Union. But do we really say that we cannot treat a guest in this country politely, unless we make him immune from the rule of law? It seems to me the most extraordinary proposition. Nor do I believe—and I hope the hon. Member will believe that I am saying what has been my experience in my professional life—that it is always an advantage to have diplomatic privilege. In a case which came within my personal knowledge—I will not give the details, Mr. Speaker, but the principle is im- portant and is germane to the argument—some years ago, a lady and her hushand who enjoyed diplomatic privilege refused to pay the wages of the midwife who had attended the birth of the child of that couple. There was no remedy whatever for that unfortunate person—

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. How do the wages of a midwife come into the Order that we are now discussing?

Mr. Speaker

I think the hon. Member rose rather too soon. I might have had some remarks to make myself.

Mr. Strauss

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, I was pointing out the effect of diplomatic privilege. I think hon. Members who are advocating diplomatic privileges for the Universal Postal Union are quite ignorant of the effect of granting diplomatic privilege. It can result in the most appalling injustice. If a person is run down in the street by somebody enjoying diplomatic privilege, the victim will have no remedy in law. Those are the facts. I cannot believe hon. Members opposite desire that state of affairs. I assume, in favour of hon. Members opposite, that they have no desire whatever for such injustice.

Mr. Speaker

The question of diplomatic privilege does arise, but if there is to be a birth or somebody is to be run over in the street, that must apply to someone in the Universal Postal Union.

Mr. Strauss

I quite agree, Mr. Speaker, and so far as I know a member of the Universal Postal Union could come over here, enjoy diplomatic privilege under this Order and would be at liberty to drive a car—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or have a baby."] If such a person ran down another person in the street, that victim, if this Order is adopted, would have no remedy in law whatsoever. In my respectful submission, it is not unimportant for this House to realise that fact. It has a most important result. I am putting to the hon. Member, whose sincerity in making his case from the other side of the House I fully appreciate, that he assumed that it would be a definite advantage in all cases for people to have this privilege; but I assure him that that is not so.

Let us examine this a little further. Suppose the Director of the Universal Postal Union wanted to take the lease of a house: he might find that the legal advisers of the person who might otherwise let him have the lease would advise his client that it was not advisable to do so precisely for the reason that he enjoyed diplomatic privilege. I very much doubt if there is any member of the legal profession in the House who has not known of cases where it has been the duty of legal and professional advisers to advise against entering into contractual relations with those enjoying diplomatic immunity.

I quite agree that one might disregard these arguments, which I submit are cogent and important arguments, if there were an overwhelming reason so to do. But what is the reason suggested? The Minister of State, who always puts his case as persuasively and as reasonably as it can be put, advances no reason except that of reciprocity. But what did he say of this particular Union? He said that its head office was in Berne, and I should like to ask this: Is there an hon. Member of this House who would hesitate to visit Switzerland because he was going to be subject to Swiss law? Of course not. It would be most insulting to the Swiss to suggest that any person would have the least hesitation about going to Switzerland because of being subject to the ordinary operation of Swiss law. Of course, the same thing applies in this country. No reason of any sort has been put forward for this Order. I suggest that this is an example of the sort of confusion that has arisen from a portentously illiterate expression from the other side of the Atlantic "under-privileged."

Of course, that expression can never be justified. Privilege means an advantage which one man has over his neighbour under the law; that may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing, but by its nature it cannot be a universal thing; and nothing is so idiotic as to condemn privilege and then to use a word that suggests that there is not enough of it. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite may think that this is something funny and that it is a joking matter, but honestly it is not in the least funny—I will give hon. Members an opportunity of making silly noises again if they wish to—to subject people in this country to the risk of injury without any legal remedy unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.

The Minister of State, in his reasonable argument this evening, put forward no reason of necessity at all. He said quite frankly that this House was able quite honourably either to adopt or to reject this Order. I suggest that this House ought to reject it because, in the absence of any cogent argument in favour of privilege, it ought to be condemned not only on every ground held dear by Members on this side who believe in subjecting people to the rule of law, but also on every ground which has hitherto been proclaimed by hon. Members opposite, who have said that they do not wish to place people above the law.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I think the Minister of State intended to make some reply to the arguments.

Mr. Speaker

I do not know. It does not arise.

Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)

I rise only to say that since many arguments of a serious nature have been advanced against this Order and since, in my view, very little has been said in favour of it, I thought the Minister of State would do us the courtesy to make some reply. I hope he will agree to do so.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)

I hope the House will excuse me for intervening for a moment so late in the evening, but I am one of the few hon. Members who, for nearly six years, actually enjoyed these privileges myself. Trying to put myself in the place of members of the Universal Postal Union, I am trying to imagine what it is that they can possibly require these privileges for.

As I remember, I did not make any use of them, as suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss), in running people down in the street and indeed, when my child was born, I distinctly remember the bill was paid. The kind of things which diplomatic privileges were used for were the small courtesies of life. It was very agreeable to pass through the Customs without ever having to open a bag. It was very agreeable to have use of a secret post and to be able to park one's car any where in the street.

I cannot conceive what use these privileges can be to members of the Universal Postal Union. To an organisation which requires to carry a great many secret documents, it may be that immunity from arrest is of great value and, no doubt, in the case of diplomatic representatives it would be embarrassing if they did not enjoy freedom from arrest and, therefore, were subjected to the possibility of embarrasing incidents. But I cannot think the members of the Universal Postal Union travel about with documents and material of such a secret and embarrassing nature that if they were picked up by some local national police it would lead to an international incident. Surely it is to prevent that kind of situation that immunity from arrest is granted. I think some clear case ought to be made by the Minister and some explanation given as to just what use these privileges will be to the people for whom they are designed.

11.5 p.m.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

It really is rather unfortunate that after so many cogent arguments have been put forward from this side of the House that the Minister should not condescend to reply on a matter which has obviously excited considerable interest from the very fact of its novelty. If there had been precedents for this matter, it would have been enough to say that this Order was in line with them, and that they had been discussed before by the House. That would be an entirely different matter, but this subject is a novel one. Diplomatic immunity is being granted to the Universal Postal Union, which is by no means a new or unusual service, and which has manafied to rub along without this privilege for many years past.

My hon. Friends, the guardians of the people, have asked why this should be granted, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss) has pointed out briefly what might be involved in certain cases by an undue extension of diplomatic privilege. The Government ask that this Order shall be approved, criticisms have been made of it, and it is not unreasonable to ask the Minister of State, who has appeared personally to move this Motion to reply to the Debate.

11.7 p.m.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

If the Minister of State is eventually going to drag himself on to his feet to answer the argu- ments of the Opposition, I hope he will answer one further query. Where are we going to stop in granting this privilege to these various organisations? Mention has been made of certain other types of organisations.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the Universal Postal Union, and not to any other organisation.

Mr. Hay

I was asking the Minister of State if he was going to explain whether this was just one of a number of Orders of this sort.

Mr. Speaker

We can deal only with this one and not with a number.

Mr. Hay

Then I will ask the Minister whether he realises the extent of this privilege. My hon. and learned friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss) mentioned one or two examples. If in fact, this organisation gets diplomatic privilege, there are a number of other things which it can do that will cause grave disquiet to the House. The organisation can sue any one of His Majesty's subjects but cannot be sued itself. It can commit any wrong and break any contract because it is not amenable to any judicial process, and there is no redress.

Becuase its premises are inviolable and immune from search, the Union in in this country could hold a British subject under restraint without being liable to the process of habeas corpus. It could keep explosives on its premises, sell drinks without a licence, even run a gambling house. It could refuse to pay rent and rates; it could even harbour runaway criminals. Since its premises could be searched, nothing could be stopped. It could hold a stock of Irish Sweepstake tickets and sell them because from my reading of the draft Order it appears that its documents would also be inviolable and immune from seizure.

The various representatives of the Union coming here for a conference could bring into the country all sorts of things like drugs and firearms, and they would be free from any search. They could take out sketches, maps, plans, drawings, and photographs of various defence establishments and installations. While they are in this country these representatives could slander or libel any of His Majesty's subjects, who would have no redress. They could, if they chose, do malicious damage to property with no redress. It is a disgrace that the Minister of State has not stated precisely why he feels this particular organisation should have these powers.

11.9 p.m.

Captain Duncan (South Angus)

I should like to reinforce the arguments that have been made and appeal to the Minister of State to answer some of the very material points which have been put. When I was in this House before, I took a very great interest in the Diplomatic Privilege (Extension) Act, 1944. When I was out of the House, there was passed the Act of 1946, which entirely altered the whole idea of diplomatic privilege, and extended it to organisations coming within a more considerable area, including the Universal Postal Union, than was contemplated in 1944. I should like to ask the Minister of State whether, in view of what has happened in the last few years, this sort of thing is to go on and is to be extended to other organisations. In view of the arguments that have been put, will he not answer some of the points?

11.11 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I am rather surprised at the Minister giving no indication of making any reply to a Debate that has gone on for over an hour. I am not suggesting that I am impressed by the arguments that have been put forward. On the contrary. I have listened carefully, and I think some of the speeches have been out of keeping with the serious arguments put forward by other hon. Members. There have been questions asked, and arguments put forward, the answers to which I can easily imagine, although it is not my place to give them. I am not concerned with the validity of the arguments, or with the time of night, but with the fact that this is the House of Commons; and I hope the Minister will tell the House why any arguments put from the opposite side of the House are not acceptable to the Government, and why the Government ask for support for the Motion.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. R. V. Grimston (Westbury)

If the Minister would do us the courtesy of asking leave to reply to the points that have been raised, he could probably dispose of the matter quickly. No reason has been put forward why the Universal Postal Union should be granted these privileges, save one.

At the beginning of his remarks, the Minister of State referred to the fact that this was an old organisation, which had been functioning for over 75 years without, apparently, any difficulty, in spite of the absence of diplomatic immunity. But it was hinted that there had grown up in recent years many organisations which had got this immunity and that the Universal Postal Union felt some loss of amour proper that it was not given immunity, too. That may be a reason, but I think the Minister might tell us, because apart from that, and apart from the fact that we are to get more advantage from this than we are likely to give, there has been given no reason for granting these privileges to this organisation, which for many years has done most useful work and, as far as we know, never felt the lack of these privileges. The Minister might do the House the courtesy of replying to the points raised, and making clear the reason these privileges should now be granted.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Younger

I should like to assure the House that no question of discourtesy arises. I made a very simple argument when I was invited to do so by the first hon. Member who spoke, and the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. Woods) made the other point which can be made, and none of the arguments that have since been put forward really affect those two main points.

May I reiterate what they were. First, on the question of reciprocity, if we wish this system of international organisations which has been growing apace since the end of the recent war, to be developed on a reasonable basis in which these various agencies, strictly specialised or not—and that is a point to which the hon. and learned Member opposite referred and which I need not elaborate—would enjoy the sort of privileges necessary for their reasonable operation, and no more; if we wish that privileges should not vary unnecessarily from one organisation to another and a standard set of privileges should be agreed by all nations, then surely the system which we are now seeking to implement is the right one.

A Convention was adopted in 1947 by the General Assembly for application to all specialised agencies. Procedure is laid down whereby that should be applied to any particular body. The Convention provides for a general code to be accepted. These matters have been coming up one by one as it was thought necessary to adopt the provisions of the general Convention. I venture to think that there is nothing in that as a system to which anyone on either side would object. It is much better that a reasonably thought out code should be adopted in this matter.

I made the point of reciprocity, which was that it is not only the country which is to be the home of these organisations which should grant these privileges, but that they should be reciprocal. It so happens that there are few organisations which have their headquarters here, but it may happen—and we hope it does—that there will be certain conferences and congresses of these bodies held in this country. If we do not grant reciprocity in respect of privileges which are granted abroad, I think it is certain there never will be congresses held in this country. Do we want that to happen? I think there is an undercurrent among a minority of hon. Members opposite who object to international organisation as such. I do not contend that that is general on the Opposition benches, but I am afraid it is something which came out clearly in the speeches of the particular team which has argued this matter.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

We have not put forward that argument at all. We asked the hon. Gentleman to deal with this question: does he say that the Universal Postal Union, which has carried on for 76 years perfectly well, cannot carry on in future unless it has all these privileges?

Mr. Younger

What I have tried to imply, and now say specifically, is that before the Convention was adopted by the United Nations there were large numbers of international organisations of many kinds, some of whom enjoyed some privileges and some of whom carried on without. It was realised that in an age when international organisation is a necessity and is carried into innumerable branches of life—economic, social and cultural, as well as political—it is right and reasonable that there should be a system and that there should be some reasonable uniformity among all the different organisations in the sort of privileges they demand.

In all the arguments put forward, no serious, reasoned objection has been taken to the privileges granted in that general Convention. The only points made were made by hon. Members who clearly had not read the provisions of this Order. The suggestion was made that excessive privileges would be enjoyed by the people to whom diplomatic privileges apply. They are simply not to be found in this Order. The hon. and learned Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss), despite a legal training, not only had not read the Order, but obviously had not read the title. If he had, he would have known that it is the Universal Postal Union with which we are dealing.

The second point, which was made by my hon. Friend, is that if we hope to be regarded as a hospitable nation prepared to accept conferences of these organisations, then we must give them the same sort of privileges as are given by all other countries.

Mr. H. Strauss

May I ask the hon. Gentleman if he will look at paragraph (8) of this Order, where he will see that it says: …the like immunity from suit and legal process …as is accorded to the envoy of a foreign Power … Does the hon. Gentleman deny that that would give members of this Union all the immunities which I mentioned in my speech?

Mr. Younger

That is a particular thing applying to a very limited section of high officials, and not to the ordinary members of the Union.

11.21 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

I am appreciative, as I am sure the House is, of the fact that eventually, under pressure, the Minister of State has made a reply. I think it was a most astonishing reply. I think it is an astonishing idea to suggest that we have to give an organisation which has gone on for some 76 years new privileges which, as far as we know, have not been asked for. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us who suggested it. The only ground he has suggested is that this is some sort of strange army going round and round which must have diplomatic privileges. It is an astonishing thing that this Order should be brought forward without there being any trace of a reasonable argument why such privileges should be granted to this particular body. Now that the Home Secretary is enjoying so much a joke which is probably a secret, I hope he will get up and tell us why this proposal has been made.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That an humble Address he presented to His Majesty, praying that the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges of the Universal Postal Union) Order in Council, 1950, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 12th July.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.