HC Deb 29 June 1955 vol 543 cc434-48

Order for Second Reading read.

5.8 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Hope)

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

On 21st February, the House approved the Agreement concerning the relations between the United Kingdom and the European Coal and Steel Community, and agreed in principle to support legislation on the lines of the present Bill. In the course of the debate on that occasion, both sides of the House recognised the need to avoid undue extension of diplomatic immunity and privilege. That need. I should like to assure hon. Members, has not been forgotten in the Bill now before the House.

The necessity for legislation arises in the following way. The Agreement concerning the relations between the United Kingdom and the Community provides, in Article 5 that, unless the Council of Association agrees otherwise, it shall meet alternately at the seat of the High Authority and in London. In order to keep contact in the intervals between the meetings, it will be necessary for us to maintain a small permanent delegation in Luxembourg and for the High Authority similarly to have a small delegation in London. In the course of our negotiations with the High Authority in connection with the conclusion of this Agreement, we acceded to the very reasonable request that the High Authority's delegation in London and ours in Luxembourg should be treated alike.

Neither the European Coal and Steel Community nor the High Authority are international organisations of which Her Majesty's Government are a member. In consequence, it is not possible for provision to be made in respect of their delegations under the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950, nor is there any other legislation in force covering their case. New legislation is, therefore, necessary. In any case, the functions of the High Authority delegation in London will be in no way comparable with those of the secretariat of an international organisation. The delegation will have to conduct vis-à-vis Her Majesty's Government the same sort of business as is conducted by the diplomatic mission of a foreign sovereign Power.

I turn to the Bill itself. The following are salient points to which I would draw the attention of the House. First, generally the Bill provides a scale of immunities and privileges lower than that accorded to foreign diplomats of comparable rank. For example, it provides general juridical immunity only for the head of the delegation and his family. It is generally recognised, I think, that the head of a delegation must be given particular consideration.

Next, no immunities or privileges of any sort are accorded by the Bill to any family other than that of the head of the delegation. The head of the delegation is specifically not exempted from the payment of the non-beneficial element of the rates on his official residence. In that he is worse off than the envoy of a foreign sovereign Power.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

What does that mean?

Lord John Hope

Beneficial rates are things like water rates and rates which go for other social services, and he is liable for his share of those.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Does he pay rent?

Lord John Hope

Does he pay rent for his building? Rent is paid in the ordinary way.

No taxation privileges are accorded to citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and no immunities or privileges are granted to the domestic staff of the delegation.

I will give to the House the numbers to whom the Bill will apply. It is a provisional estimate, but it is near enough. Of official staff of a rank equivalent to that of attaché or above, there will be two or three, and official staff below the equivalent of the rank of attaché, six or seven. It may be that there will be a few others from time to time who will perhaps come for a few days in connection with a specific mission.

I have given the House the reasons for the Bill, I have outlined its contents, and I have referred to the likely number of people concerned. I hope that the House will think it a reasonable Measure and will give it a Second Reading.

5.14 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

I rise, not to oppose the Bill, which, I understand, provides the reciprocal treatment to that which the British delegation at Luxembourg receive. I take it that it is neither more nor less than that.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong for us to give the Bill a Second Reading without voicing the general anxiety in many people's minds about the growing army of civilians receiving diplomatic immunity. It is natural, with the growth of international organisations, that that should be the case, but it is also a very good reason for which we should now make a serious inquiry into the need for a good deal of the diplomatic immunity which covers so many people.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State has indicated that few people are affected by the Bill and that only the chief representative has immunity somewhat similar to, although not as great as, that given to an envoy from another country. The Bill says that he will have exemption or relief from rates on official premises… I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that he would not have relief from rates on his premises; the hon. Member spoke about the water rate, for example.

Lord John Hope

I was referring to his residence, not his official premises. That is his private residence, as opposed to his official premises.

Mr. Robens

Then the private residence of the chief representative is not exempted from rates, and Clause 1 (1, c) refers only to his official residence.

Subsection (2) makes a division of the staff of the chief representative, unless I am reading the Bill wrongly. It appears that any one above the rank of attaché is entitled to exemption from Income Tax in respect of his official emoluments and also other exemption or relief from taxes as is accorded to members of the official staff of such an envoy holding equivalent rank. Other members of the staff, presumably below the rank of attaché, get exemption from Income Tax but not this exemption or relief from taxes as is accorded to members of the official staff of such an envoy holding equivalent rank. Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what this means? Does it mean that the secretaries, typists and others may not have anything tax free but if a man holds a post equivalent to that of attaché upwards then the receipt of tax-free goods is permissible?

I should like to ask some questions about tax-free goods. Does the Bill give those who come within its provisions the right to buy goods in shops without paying British taxation on them—without paying Purchase Tax, tobacco duty, petrol duty and a whole host of other taxes? That is an important question, and on the answer to it will depend how I shall proceed. On the assumption that they have some relief—I gather the Joint Under-Secretary says that they have no relief. In that case, what does this mean? The Bill says that they shall have relief from taxes. Is it not the case that petrol coupons are issued, for example, by embassies? What does the subsection mean?

I recognise that there has to be reciprocity, but I am sure that all agree that the large and mounting number of people receiving diplomatic immunity is a point which must be mentioned when we are dealing with Bills such as this. Some day there must be an inquiry to see whether there is a need for this kind of diplomatic immunity.

In London, and indeed in Paris and other capitals of the world, we see motor cars being driven around each with a "C.D." plate on the back. My information is that the mere tacking of a "C.D." plate on to the back of a car means nothing at all and that anybody can do it, whether he is a diplomat or not.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

Put "M.P." on.

Mr. Robens

I am referring to the letters "C.D."

Large numbers of people are not aware of the fact that "C.D." confers no privilege at all on a man riding in a motor car. A great many people in this country are under the impression that when they see a car with "C.D." on it and a very important diplomatic personage in it, he may do what he likes, break the speed limit and commit other offences. If I have done nothing more than draw the attention of the House to that important fact, I have not been wasting time.

One understands that if we have diplomats here they must have immunity from seizure of documents, and that their premises are part of the soil of their country in a foreign land. I wonder, however, how long we, with other countries, are to go on, in international organisations, for example the European Coal and Steel Community, organisations like U.N.E.S.C.O. and various agencies of the United Nations, paying taxpayers' money and then saying that the recipient of that money, unlike any other person in any other State in the world, shall not pay any Income Tax on it. They enjoy the amenities of whatever capital the central organisation may be in and also the privileges and services for which taxation makes provision, but pay no taxation to anyone on the grounds that we cannot collect money from nations to keep an organisation going and then return some of that money to the Government of a country where, for the time being, the head office of that organisation is.

In those circumstances, it may be difficult to have a collection of taxes. Nevertheless, there ought to be a contribution and there ought to be no one who escapes some responsibility for making his contribution to the national pool of money which provides all sorts of facilities by which we live. I wonder whether it is possible for some arrangement to be made between Governments for a reasonable taxation deduction which would compare with an average of what is deducted in other countries, and for that amount of money to be returned to the organisation. At least, Governments would be saved that amount.

I think it wrong in principle that there should be this ever-growing army of people steadily getting diplomatic immunity; and, in my view, a great deal of the immunity is unnecessary. They need immunity for what they are doing in their jobs; that is right, but I cannot see that it should also mean that they are entitled to immunity in all sorts of other ways, including their private life outside the job they are doing. In a way an analogy can be drawn with Members of Parliament. At this Box and in this House we can say what we like and we are free from arrest and free from libel. To that extent we enjoy some immunity.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Free from uttering a libel, but not free from having it uttered against us.

Mr. Robens

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) very properly says that we are free from uttering a libel, but not free from having it uttered against us. Nevertheless, we have some immunity in the House because we are doing a duty for which we have been elected. Immediately we set forth outside the boundaries of the Palace of Westminster we are treated—as we should be treated—like any other ordinary citizen.

I am asking whether the time has not arrived, in dealing with these international organisations, when the immunities concerned should be devoted entirely to the function for which members of those organisations are here, and that immediately they are outside that function they should be treated just like the nationals of whatever nation to which they belong. I think there is general resentment at this horde of people claiming immunity and getting it.

I should like some detailed information on the question of taxation. It seems to me that outside the scope of the actual work which the individual is doing on behalf of an international authority he should be treated like any other individual who happens to be living in another country than his own and is working there.

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)

Does the right hon. Member think it is really justifiable to treat these people on the same footing as, for example, many business people in their private lives? Surely there is a distinction in this case, and Membership of Parliament is no analogy. These people come to this country by invitation of this Government. Would it not be a little strange then to tax them?

Mr. Robens

The hon. Member is quite wrong; it is not the case that they come here by invitation of this Government. In the Bill we are discussing that is certainly not the case. We have an Agreement with the European Coal and Steel Community which says that delegations shall be set up in Luxembourg and in London, one in Luxembourg for the British Government and the one in London for the High Authority. The selection of the individuals is done in the one case by the British Government and in the other by the Luxembourg Government.

Mr. Smithers

If that is not an invitation I do not know what is.

Mr. Robens

That is a technicality. The British Government do not select the representatives of Luxembourg. The fact that they are approved is a technicality. It is not usually the case that when names are put forward they are disapproved. If so it is only for certain reasons which certainly do not arise in the argument we are having. Therefore, it is not a question of invitation. They are here to do a job in the same way as a British Member of Parliament goes on a delegation to any part of the world doing a job, which he does without requiring diplomatic immunity to do it.

There are far too many people with immunity, far too many civil servants enjoying immunity, and in my opinion that should not be the case. One cannot travel round the countries of the world without seeing many cases in which the sort of facilities offered ought not to be offered and would not be offered to any businessman who, very often is doing a job ten times as important as many privileged individuals whom I have met abroad.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)

I do not think I can altogether dissociate myself from the wonder—I will not put it higher than that—which many people express at the extent to which this granting of diplomatic immunity has grown. On a number of occasions we have heard the explanation that we cannot do less than is done for us. It is true that no one likes to lag in courtesy and consideration in favour of those who have already shown that courtesy and consideration to us, but I should like to know from my right hon. Friend, when he replies to the debate, who sets the pace for all this?

It seems that this essentially is a question for international study and that there should be talks on it. It may well be that what is going on is desirable and, indeed, may be necessary, but I should have thought that this essentially was a case of one of the many international organisations in which my right hon. Friend should have the matter looked into with a view to considering whether there could be evolved a common factor of privilege which would apply to all the countries with whom we deal.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)

I think we are all worried about this spread of diplomatic immunity and privilege, sometimes to people who have very slender claims for it, but I agree with the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) that this would have to be dealt with at international level. It would not do for Great Britain to be less hospitable or less considerate to visitors to this country engaged on official business than any other country.

I do not want to delay the proceedings—although it does not look as though we shall be unduly burdened by our labours today—except to say that I think we ought to consent to anything which helps the High Authority of the European Iron and Steel Community. This is a very important body, and if anything that is in the Bill helps we ought to pass it unanimously.

We have heard a great deal of nonsense talked in the House about a German contribution to Western defence. Many of the arguments were as "phony" as a "crummy" pound note, but the most significant event in Europe of the last ten years has been this handing of the German iron, coal and steel industry, the three basic essentials of modern war, to an international commission, the president of which is a Frenchman. This is the most significant event in the last ten years of European history, for when we come to think that three times in the lifetime of many living people France has been invaded by Germany, the importance of this new co-operation is of immense significance.

We ought to encourage not only the Schuman Plan, as it is known, but all those other moves towards European unity which it might not be improper to mention. The European Payments Union, the Council of Europe, the European Committee for European Cooperation, the nine-Power Agreement and the Schuman Plan—all these things are a move towards restoration of that economic, military and political unity in Europe without which Europe cannot hope to improve her living standards or play her part in international affairs which her traditions and experience make desirable. Therefore, to the extent that the Bill helps this developing trend, I am very happy to give it my support.

5.33 p.m.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

I am in a difficulty in that I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Coal and Steel Community and I regret that the principle of the extension of diplomatic and other immunities should be associated with such a desirable object as the promotion of the Coal and Steel Community. I have been worried for some time about this extention of diplomatic immunity and as recently as the 23rd of this month I asked a Question, to which I got a very interesting Answer.

In that Answer, I was told that there are now 2,522 persons in this country enjoying those privileges, of whom 688 are servants employed in their households. In addition, the wives and families of all those people also enjoy these privileges. These figures must be alarming to every hon. Member of the House. While the original conception was that any person of ambassadorial status should get those privileges, the Answer to which I have referred showed that there are five United Nations organisations now getting them, plus the International Labour Organisation, the International Sugar Council and two bodies connected with N.A.T.O. That, obviously, is getting us on to a very dangerous slippery slope and I do not know where it will finish. There are many other quasi-Governmental international organisations with representatives in London, and it seems to me that we have established some rather dangerous precedents.

Here, we come up against what should be done in the case of the European Coal and Steel Community, and the argument in favour of the Bill is that it is a matter of reciprocity. I beg to question that. After all, our representative in Luxembourg is a gentleman with the status of Ambassador, and I think that there is a good basis for any privileges that he might have; but the representatives of the Community in London do not have the status of ambassador, and it is stretching it a little bit far, I suggest, to say that this is merely a question of reciprocity.

The hon. Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) asked, very pertinently, why some of these privileges have been extended to international organisations. Sometimes, I think, they have been extended by certain countries to tempt an organisation to establish its headquarters in a particular capital. I do not think there is any doubt about it. That is all very well, but again, a dangerous precedent is established. If countries try to outbid each other by granting privileges to get people to go to their capitals, as certain of our towns do to attract conferences, we shall get into serious trouble. I support the suggestions, from both sides of the House, that the Government should look seriously at the whole question. It has got to the state now where it is due for overhaul and reconsideration.

The Bill brings in something entirely new in that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) pointed out, we now have a different status of diplomatic immunity, a kind of Mark II variety of diplomatic immunity as it were. We are told that only the head of a mission, and not the other members, will get it extended to his family. That is something. We are told that such a person will only get some of the privileges that an ambassador or a clerk in the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would get. That, too, is something. Perhaps this new kind of status might be a pattern for what is given in future to some of these organisations.

In considering the Bill, we cannot close our mind to the fact that before the end of this week we will be faced with four more measures in which immunities and privileges are to be extended. One relates to the Commission for Technical Co-operation in Africa South of the Sahara, one is in connection with the International Maritime Consultative Organisation, another is the Western European Union and the fourth is the World Health Organisation. We have four more in one week. Where will it finish? The Minister must be realising himself that he cannot get many more Orders or Bills of this kind through the House without serious protests being raised from both sides.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

This is a small and innocuous looking Bill, but it is already being shown that it bristles with anomalies. I certainly discovered an anomaly when I asked the Minister whether the exemption from rates and taxes applied to rent. Apparently, a person who enjoys diplomatic immunity is not to pay his water rate or his rates for roads or electricity or anything of that kind, but if he is a tenant of the Duke of Portland, the Duke of Portland expresses the hospitality of this country by charging a very substantial rent.

It is a rather curious state of affairs. Imagine the position of these representatives of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community. They will come to London and will presumably live in quarters like Portland Place and in most expensive houses in the West End of London. This nation generously says, "You need not pay for your water; you need not pay for your gas or electricity." Then the landlord comes along and says, "You are living in this country now. In Rome, you must do what Rome does. In London, the custom of the local inhabitants is that they pay very large sums in rent." It does not seem a very great advantage to anyone who is given diplomatic immunity—it does not seem a very real diplomatic immunity—to be let off about £20 a year for water rate but required to pay £200 a year in rent.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

The meaning of what the hon. Member is saying is that the Duke of Portland will further support the Welfare State, since 18s. in every £ he gets will go to it through the Exchequer.

Mr. H. Hynd

These people get the benefit of the Welfare State.

Mr. Hughes

I have too much regard for the Chair to wander from the subject, as the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) invites me to do by such digressions.

I fail to see why anybody given diplomatic immunity should not obey the ordinary laws of the land. Why should a diplomat who, say, exceeds the speed limit when driving through London not be brought before a magistrate, as anybody else would be who did such a thing? I fail to see why he should not be. I live in a part of the country where there is a large number of foreign representatives from the United States of America, all of whom are under the impression that the motoring laws do not apply to them.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

Is my hon. Friend aware that a constituent of mine had parked his car in front of a rather large hotel in London when a grand piano was thrown out of a window and smashed down on his car, and that as it was thrown out by a diplomat my constituent could not recover damages?

Mr. Hughes

That was carrying the respect we pay to international music rather far.

These diplomatic immunities bristle with anomalies, and grow out of the bed of ancient tradition of the Foreign Office. The sooner we rationalise them the better. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will turn his attention to the question why people who are given diplomatic immunity from rates should be charged rents.

5.43 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. H. Turton)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) asked me to give details of the tax exemptions which are afforded by the Bill. For those of the rank of attaché and above, who, my hon. Friend said, number two or three, the privileges are exemption from Income Tax on their official salaries, exemption from Income Tax on their income arising abroad, exemption on income from certain British Government securities, and exemption from Schedule A tax on the premises owned and occupied for diplomatic purposes. Those who are not of that rank, who, my hon. Friend said, numbered either six or seven, will have only the exemption from Income Tax on their official emoluments.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Customs and Excise duties. The Bill does not give any concession for Customs and Excise duties. It is a fact that there are certain Customs privileges granted extra-statutorily to those who enjoy diplomatic status, but that has nothing to do with the Bill, and the passing of the Bill will not affect the granting of those Customs privileges. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Purchase Tax. No Purchase Tax concessions are granted either statutorily or extra-statutorily to any diplomat.

I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of the curious letters CD on plates on motor cars. Let me say again that they are of absolutely no consequence at all.

Mr. Hobson

Has the right hon. Gentleman one?

Mr. Turton

I have not one on my car. I believe that people know that they are an adornment and nothing more. Heads of missions have identification plaques which are carried to enable them to proceed on their duties once the plaques have been shown to the police. That is normal in all countries, to enable diplomatic business in emergencies to be transacted quickly.

Mr. H. Hynd

Does that mean that there is still another badge that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) can put on the front of his car?

Mr. Turton

I have always been surprised at the curious decorations and embellishments put on cars, but I think Members of Parliament, or certain Members of Parliament, should be a little cautious about that, because I have seen a grill which is displayed on cars and which, I believe, some people think gives them power to proceed more quickly about the streets. Personally, I have not had that decoration on any car I have owned. I feel that putting it on is little different from putting on a CD plate.

Mr. Hobson

There is a point concerning CD plates which is worrying many hon. Members not only on this side of the House but on the other side, too, I am sure. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the letters CD stand for Corps Diplomatique or Chauffeur Dangereux?

Mr. Turton

I leave that to the imagination of the hon. Member, which is very strong, as strong as the man who could throw a grand piano out of a window.

Let me proceed to some of the other questions I have been asked. The burden of the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) was that the House was worried about the number of diplomatic immunities and privileges which are being given. There has been no increase in the scale of privilege. What has happened since the war is that there have been much larger missions than before. As I said to the House on another occasion—I think it was two weeks ago—we are very much aware of that fact, and we have been looking into it. This Bill is the best evidence of the Government's desire to restrict the amount of immunity and privilege.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) said that our representative in Luxembourg had the status of an ambassador, and asked why the representatives of the High Authority should not have that status. In fact, the Bill cuts down the status of our representative in Luxembourg, who, up to now, has had full diplomatic status. Now, however, because the immunity and privilege mentioned in the Bill are to be reciprocal, our representative in Luxembourg will suffer a reciprocal curtailment.

I hope that the House will recognise that fact. We have cut down the privileges that are being accorded here, knowing that our representative in Luxembourg will suffer that curtailment. Before we took this action we consulted our representative in Luxembourg, and he expressed the view that we were being wise.

I will give the assurance that we are constantly considering this question in order to see that the numbers and the scale of privileges and immunities do not become excessive. I believe that it is extremely important that what is conferred in this country should be only what is conferred overseas on this country.

I believe that the reciprocal nature of diplomatic immunities and privileges is important. They have gone on since at least the time of Queen Anne. I do not remember myself what happened before that time. I understand that Queen Anne is dead, though I never know for certain, because the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has written such amusing passages about old age and senility that I never know what monarch or what leader, on either side of the House, is dead or merely senile.

The hon. Member for Accrington said that there were 109 representatives who were having the lower scale of privileges under the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Act, 1950. That is quite true. The number is great, but the hon. Member must remember that that Act was passed—in my opinion, rightly—by the Government which he supported to accord a lower level of immunities and privileges to those representing international organisations. The number is large because, for the good of the countries of the world, these international organisations are increasing in their labours. I am sure that the hon. Member will not deny the value of the work done by the Technical Aid Programme and other programmes. If that valuable work is done it is only right that the representatives of those organisations should have their work facilitated. I hope that with these undertakings the House will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Redmayne.]

Committee upon Monday next.