HC Deb 09 December 1958 vol 597 cc301-4

8.22 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. John Profumo)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the International Sugar Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1958, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 26th November. I have been a member of the House long enough to realise what a keen interest hon. Members take in questions of immunity and privileges. Furthermore, I know well that when I see the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) in his place it behoves one to be more than usually precise. I should like to say a word or two of explanation about the Order.

The International Sugar Agreement, 1953, expires at the end of this year and Her Majesty's Government and the other Governments concerned have concluded a new and very good Agreement, which was laid before Parliament on 20th November. We hope that this Agreement can come into force next January. It is almost similar in every respect to the previous one.

The only difference concerning privileges and immunities is in Article 38 (6), which replaces the word "funds" in the original Agreement with the words "assets, income and other property". This has made necessary a small amendment in Article 3 of the International Sugar Council Order, which is already in force. The only practical effect of this change will be to confer on the Sugar Council a partial exemption from municipal rating charges on its London offices, similar to that accorded in respect of the official premises of diplomatic missions. No new personal reliefs or exemptions are involved or, indeed, contemplated.

All that we are doing is simply to take this opportunity of bringing the arrangements for the Sugar Council in London into line with other commodity councils. The proposed amendment in Article 38 (6) of the new Agreement, which is reflected in Article 3 of tonight's Order, gives effect to this.

8.24 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

I am glad to have this opportunity of welcoming the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the Front Bench on the occasion of his first speaking since taking up his new appointment. The hon. Gentleman certainly has not been lacking in precision. His address was a model of lucidity and precision and seemed to me somewhat to highlight Horace's famous line about the mountains labouring and a mouse being born.

This modest little mouse is a piece of business which rounds off an evening's debate which, perhaps, can be said not to have been remarkable for its forensic thrills. I do not imagine that the House is galvanised with any particularly electric feeling at learning that the existing Order is being changed in the particular which the Minister has described.

The Order, although not stimulating the House to any unusual degree of effervescence, certainly has introduced into the proceedings a tone of mystery. When one looks at the Order, it is difficult to discover why this small change in the municipal rating of the premises of the Sugar Council is achieved by Article 3 of the Order. I certainly accept at once from the Minister that that is its effect.

Paragraph 3 states: The Council 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. By some process of ratiocination which is difficult to discern under the somewhat arid words of that Article, no doubt one reaches the desirable bourne which the hon. Gentleman has indicated as having been attained by this new Order.

As the Joint Under-Secretary has said, Members on both sides of the House are always anxious to ensure that when any new immunities are conferred there is a just and reasonable case for them. That issue does not arise in this debate, because the question whether the members of the Sugar Council should be accorded special immunities has, in effect, been decided by the House in passing the previous Order which the present one replaces.

As the Minister has said, all that the Order does is to give effect to a change in the wording of what was Article 38 (6) of the old Order and becomes a slightly changed Article 38 (6) of the new Order. "Funds" in the old Order becomes "assets, income and other property" in the new Order. Exactly what the difference is, I do not know. "Funds" would have seemed to me to be a general comprehensive term. I cannot imagine income which does not constitute funds. Assets might be assets which fall outside the scope of the word "funds".

However that may be, I do not think that it would be profitable or of interest to the House to prod more deeply into the precise minutiae of the substituted phrase. Speaking for myself and, I believe, for my right hon. Friends on this side, we have no objection to change which the Minister seeks to introduce by his new Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the International Sugar Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1958, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 26th November.

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