HC Deb 01 March 1960 vol 618 cc1173-7

10.38 p.m.

Mr. R. Allan

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Western European Union (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1959, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 8th December. On 8th December last year I explained to the House that this Order revokes the 1955 Order and re-enacts it to cover the Judges and the Clerk of the Tribunal which was set up by the Convention of 1957. The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) then discovered a drafting error. This error had escaped the notice of the House previously, for it was embodied in the 1955 Order and was consequently re-embodied in this one when it was presented. Thanks, however, to the right hon. and learned Gentleman we have now corrected it. I am grateful to him, and I am apologetic to him and to the House that it should have escaped our notice previously.

I should like to add in this connection that when we discussed this matter I referred to a printer's error which at that time I believed it to be. As I explained just now, it was, in fact, a drafting error. I want to make this plain lest it should be thought that the fault lay with Her Majesty's Stationery Office which always serves us so accurately. As in December the House accepted my earlier explanation of this Order, I hope that now that we have corrected this minor mistake it will feel able to approve it.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

I do not wish to delay the House in coming, as I hope, to a satisfactory conclusion on this Order, but I wish to ask whether in bringing it forward now we can assume that Her Majesty's Government have ratified, or will shortly ratify, the Convention signed in Paris on 14th December, 1957, concerning the Agency for the Control of Armaments, because, as the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has drawn to the attention of the House, obviously the control of armaments is most important and of increasing importance.

If we do ratify the Convention we shall be the first of the member Governments to do so. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman can tell us anything about that. I attach very great importance to the Convention.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is going far beyond the Order.

Mr. Mulley

I was trying to find out the position. If we are giving immunities and no other Government has ratified the Convention, we shall be giving those immunities under a Convention which is null and void. We are surely entitled to know the background of the Convention under which these immunities are to be granted.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to ask what action other Governments are taking.

Mr. Mulley

I was wondering what the position was there. As I understand it, unless these immunities are granted and the Convention is ratified, the work of the Agency in Western European Union will be ineffective. Therefore, I shall be grateful for any information on that point.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

As the Minister has said, this Order, or more correctly an earlier draft of this Order, was before the House on 7th December when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) made certain observations about it and drew attention to a serious drafting error which really made nonsense of one paragraph. It was as a result of what my right hon. and learned Friend said that on that occasion the Minister decided to withdraw the Order then before the House, with the result that the Minister is now asking the House to approve a corrected form of that draft.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) has inquired, and I will, if I may, support him in inquiring, whether the Minister can tell us what the procedure will be in the event of the House giving its approval to this Order. May we assume that if the House endorses the Order Her Majesty's Government will then be able to sign the Convention or will it be the intention of Her Majesty's Government to wait till other Governments concerned have for their part adhered to the Convention? In addition to that—

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

I understood that we had, in fact, already signed the Convention. It is purely a question of ratification, is it not?

Mr. Fletcher

The question to which my hon. Friend and I are both concerned to know the answer is what will now be the timetable with regard to ratification of the Convention with a view to making it operative and binding as far as this country is concerned.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport raised a further point on the Order and I invite the Minister again to say a word about that point, because in its present form I do not find the Order very satisfactory. My right hon. and learned Friend drew attention to the last sentence in the second article. It is provided that any immunity granted under this Order can be waived by the Secretary-General acting on behalf of the organisation, which is a very common form of provision and very convenient, because, as I understand the procedure, these immunities are not infrequently waived in appropriate cases. However, the Order then goes on to say this: No waiver of immunity shall be deemed to extend to any measure of execution or detention of property. I ask, why not?

If it is appropriate for the Secretary-General to waive immunity, for example, in order that legal process may continue against somebody who would otherwise be privileged by reason of this Order, and if such proceedings are successful, why should not the waiver extend so that, for example, some injured party, who has obtained redress or relief in the courts, should be able to enjoy the normal fruits of the litigation or legal process which he has conducted down to that date? It seems to me illogical that the Secretary-General should be prohibited under the terms of this Order even in appropriate cases from waiving an immunity not only in regard to the process itself but also in regard to the execution of any judgment which results from the legal process.

I cannot believe that that is a necessary provision in the Order or is required by any international obligation. I can quite understand that different circumstances may arise in the case of an ambassador. If the Joint Under-Secretary of State is going to tell us that this is necessary by reason of some international agreement, I, for myself, would think that the international agreement in that respect is defective and ought not to be regarded as a precedent for any future international agreements of this kind.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. R. Allan

If I may answer first the point raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), I would say that the Government strongly share his views about the urgency of getting this Convention ratified. Of course, the first step of ratification is this Order. One other point which he made in conversation with Mr. Deputy-Speaker when he was in the Chair was that we would be granting these immunities when the Order is finally made, but the other countries would not have ratified, and the Convention would not be in force. Article 18, the last article of the Order, indicates that it does not come into force and that therefore the immunities and privileges will not be granted till the Convention concerning the Agency for the Control of Armaments enters into force with respect to the United Kingdom. That will not be till it is ratified by the other countries—

Mr. Mulley

I should like to get the matter clear. I am not so concerned about our not granting immunities. What I am concerned about is the Convention coming into force. Can the hon. Gentleman give us information about that?

Mr. Allan

The moment this Order has been made we shall ratify the Convention, but, of course, the Convention does not come into force till it is ratified by all the other countries of W.E.U. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said, we shall, I hope, if the House passes this Order tonight, be the first country to ratify it.

On the other main point raised by the hon. Member for Islington, East, about the waiver, this provision is in all these agreements. Perhaps the hon. Member did not realise that this article relates to the organisation and not the individuals They are dealt with later—the representatives in Part II and the officers in Part III. Therefore, if anybody were able to bring an action against an individual it would still be possible for him to levy execution on the individual's property. This article relates only to the property of the organisation, as such, and it puts it in a slightly different category. I hope that that explanation will satisfy the hon. Member.

I have here the actual article on which it is based, namely, Article 4 of Part II of the main Agreement. We are bound by this, but we will bear in mind the hon. Member's point that this may not be a very good provision to have in all such agreements. But in this Order we are bound by Article 4 of Part II and therefore we have to have it in this form.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Western European Union (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1959, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 8th December.

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