HC Deb 03 February 1964 vol 688 cc919-36

Order for Second Reading read.

8.24 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Mervyn Pike)

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

The Bill enables the United Kingdom to implement the obligations we have entered into with our fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. To understand the Bill it is necessary to go back a few years to recall that in June, 1951, the members of N.A.T.O. signed an Agreement Regarding the Status of Forces of Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty (Cmd. 9363).

This Agreement empowers the Service courts and Service authorities of member countries to exercise jurisdiction, in some cases exclusive jurisdiction, over members of their armed forces and the civilian components of those forces when stationed in the territory of other member countries; it also confers on the military authorities of member countries certain privileges and exemptions in relation to these forces similar to those enjoyed by the military authorities of the host country.

As the House knows, the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, was passed to enable the United Kingdom to ratify this Status of Forces Agreement. There was, however, a Protocol to the Agreement, which was signed in 1952 and is entitled, "Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters set up Pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty" (Cmd. 8687): and this has not yet been ratified by the United Kingdom. This Protocol applies the 1951 Agreement to certain allied headquarters under N.A.T.O., and provides for certain other privileges to be conferred on those headquarters.

Apart from Canada, which has no N.A.T.O. headquarters in its territory, and West Germany, which did not join N.A.T.O. until some years after the original members and hopes to accede to the Protocol shortly, we are the only country which has so far not given full effect to its provisions. The Bill will enable us to do so by extending the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, to headquarters and defence organisations to be specified, and for enabling the necessary privileges to be conferred on them by Order in Council.

The scope of the Bill is confined to the application of the Visiting Forces Act to certain headquarters and defence organisations and to conferring on those headquarters certain privileges to which I will refer later.

Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)

The hon. Lady has been talking up to now solely about the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and organisations set up under it. I do not see any references to that in the Bill at all. As far as I can see, the scope of the Bill is perfectly general and is not limited in any way to specific organisations.

Miss Pike

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed, perhaps he will understand as I develop the argument. These are organisations which can be designated. I am merely giving examples so that he will, perhaps, be able to understand the Bill. It is highly technical and, therefore, I thought that it needed as clear an explanation as possible.

There are at present no N.A.T.O. "defence organisations" in being, but Article 14 of the Protocol requires us to be able to designate them should any be established.

There are two general points which I would like to make. First, the Bill does not raise any new points of principle. Its main effect is simply to extend to international defence headquarters privileges which Parliament has already agreed to grant to members of visiting forces.

Secondly, the other N.A.T.O. countries in whose territory international headquarters have been set up afford substantially the same immunities and privileges to members of the United Kingdom forces serving in headquarters in those countries. In the Bill we are simply granting reciprocity.

If the Bill is passed, it is intended to designate the following headquarters. First, under the general heading of "supreme headquarters" there are S.H.A.P.E., Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe; SACLANT, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, and the Channel Committee. I should explain that S.H.A.P.E. and SACLANT are not established in this country, but they have functions to perform here—S.H.A.P.E., for example, has certain radar and communication installations—and it is desirable to designate all the N.A.T.O. supreme headquarters.

The Channel Committee consists of the naval Chiefs of Staff, or their permanent representatives, of Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. It is the N.A.T.O. authority for the Channel Command area.

Secondly, under the general designation category of "subordinate headquarters" there is the Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Atlantic Area, and the Headquarters of the C.-in-C., Air Maritime Eastern Atlantic Area, at Northwood, and they are subordinate to SACLANT. There is also the Headquarters of the C.-in-C., Channel Command at Portsmouth, and the Headquarters of the C.-in-C., Allied Maritime Air Force, Channel, which is at Northwood, and both of these are subordinate to the Channel Committee.

There are, therefore, at present 37 non-United Kingdom members of these headquarters—that is, the Channel Committee and the subordinate headquarters—in this country, of whom 11 are civilians. The precise number may, or course, vary from time to time.

Clause 2 enables Her Majesty, by Order in Council, to direct that the provisions of the Bill shall extend, subject to modifications, to the Colonies and other territories. If the Bill is passed it is intended to extend it—provided the colonial administrations agree—to Malta and Gibralta, where N.A.T.O. headquarters are already in being. In Malta there are the Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces, Mediterranean, and the Commander, South Eastern Mediterranean; and in Gibraltar there is the Commander, Gibraltar-Mediterranean area. There are at present 116 non-United Kingdom members of these headquarters, of whom 11 are civilians.

The Visiting Forces Act, 1952, has been extended to Malta and Gibraltar. Once the Bill has been extended to the Colonies, it will be for them to designate the headquarters and make any other subordinate Orders.

I turn to the immunities and privileges envisaged in the Bill. Clause 1(1) empowers the designating Order in Council to confer on a headquarters "the legal capacity of a body corporate", and certain other immunities and privileges. The wording is similar to that of Section 1(2) of the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950. Incorporation—that is, the conferring on a headquarters of the legal capacity of a body corporate—where that is appropriate, will carry with it the capacity to sue and be sued.

The Protocol does not require immunity from suit and legal process to be conferred on headquarters, except that under Article 11(2) no measure of execution or measure directed to the seizure or attachment of its property or funds may be taken against any allied headquarters. There is, of course, no reason to think that headquarters will not, in practice, comply with any judgments that may be made against them.

As required by Article 13 of the Protocol, all supreme and subordinate headquarters will need to be given full inviolability of archives. The term "archives" is wide enough to include the "official documents" referred to in Article 13.

I should point out that under Clause 1(4) of the Bill any Order in Council designating headquarters and conferring immunities and privileges is subject to parliamentary approval by way of affirmative Resolution.

I would like to draw hon. Members' attention to paragraph 7 of the Schedule, the effect of which is that laws which confer privileges and immunities on the home forces can be applied by Order in Council to allied headquarters as they can be and have been, applied to visiting forces in Orders in Council made under section 8 of the Visiting. Forces Act, 1952. Orders in Council under Section 8 of the 1952 Act are subject to affirmative Resolution, and Orders under paragraph 7 of the Schedule will also be so subject.

To turn to jurisdiction, hon. Members will be interested in the provisions of the Bill relating to the powers of Service courts and Service authorities, and to the restriction of trial by United Kingdom courts. The powers of Service courts and Service authorities are granted and defined in paragraph 3 of the Schedule.

The position is that the Service courts and Service authorities of a country to with Section 2 of the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, applies are empowered by that Section to exercise their jurisdiction over military members of any visiting force of that country. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule to the Bill provides that the Service courts and authorities of such a country may similarly exercise their jurisdiction over military members of a designated headquarters who belong to that country. Sub-paragraph (2) corresponds to the proviso to Section 2(2) of the Act of 1952.

The effect of these provisions is to prevent a country from acquiring jurisdiction over a person in the United Kingdom by calling him up and posting him, against his will, to a visiting force or headquarters.

Under paragraph 4 of the Schedule, the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts to try offences by military or civilian members of a headquarters is restricted in certain cases corresponding to those in which Section 3 of the 1952 Act restricts the jurisdiction of United Kingdom courts to try offences by members of visiting forces or of civilian components of those forces.

In effect, this means that, apart from offences arising out of the offender's duty, the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts will be excluded only if the offence is committed against the person or property of a person belonging to the same country as the offender, or a dependant of such a person, or against the property of the offender's country or of the headquarters.

It will not be excluded if, for example, a Belgian member of a headquarters commits an offence against a Canadian member of a headquarters or of a visiting force, nor if a member of a Canadian visiting force commits an offence against a Belgian member of a headquarters.

Offences against the person or property of a defendant who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies or ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom are not excluded from the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts, nor are offences against the person or property of any member of the home forces who may be attached to a visiting force or a headquarters.

Under paragraph 5 of the Schedule, United Kingdom courts will be prevented from entertaining civil proceedings in respect of a person's pay or service as a member of a headquarters in the same way that they are prevented as regards visiting forces under Section 6 of the 1952 Act. This will place members of headquarters in the same position as the members of the home forces, who cannot sue in the civil courts for their pay.

I have tried to give the House a clear account of what is a technical Bill. I stress that it does not depart in any particular from the principles of the 1952 Act. I hope that I have covered all the points, and as clearly as possible, but perhaps, by leave of the House, if there are any questions, I will be able to help right hon. and hon. Members who have not followed the line of my argument.

8.42 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

The hon. Lady has obviously had the assistance of a very full note which she has very kindly reproduced to us with great accuracy and fluency. I am sure that we are grateful to her for being so very attentive to the script containing the wisdom she deployed to us. I have several questions to put to her, however. The first concerns something that did not seem to be dealt with in her note.

Why this delay of twelve years? I am sure that she must have been briefed, or at any rate perturbed, about that delay. It occasioned some surprise when the Bill was introduced in another place and Lord Derwent, the Government spokesman on that occasion, then gave an answer that I would like to tell the House about. I very much hope that the hon. Lady will be able to find in her notes some more adequate answer than that given in the House of Lords. The dates are as follows: the Agreement Regarding the Status of Forces of Parties to the N.A.T.O. Treaty was dated 19th June, 1951, and the United Kingdom ratification was deposited in May, 1954. What we are dealing with in this Bill is the Protocol to that Agreement. The Protocol was dated 28th August, 1952, and the object of this Bill is to enable it to be ratified and effect to be given to it. This means that nearly twelve years have gone by.

The Protocol was dated August, 1952, and now it is February, 1964. I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that it is somewhat surprising that twelve years should have gone by before this Measure was introduced. The very first question put to Lord Derwent in another place concerned the reason for the delay. The noble Lord seems to have been very much taken aback by that question. He said that he did not know. He was asked to find out, and he then said that he thought that the official answer was lack of Parliamentary time. I greatly hope that the hon. Lady can give us a better answer than that.

This sort of afternoon and evening is not without precedent in the annals of the House. Week after week goes by during which a little Bill of this comparative unimportance could be slipped in and dealt with. It really seems a somewhat unsatisfactory explanation if, after a first answer betokening ignorance of the problem, the Government spokesman says that he gathers that the official answer is lack of Parliamentary time. Perhaps what happened really was that this little matter found its way to the bottom of somebody's "In" tray. I will pause for a moment while the hon. Lady is being instructed about it. If she is not, I am sorry for her. I can only hope that she will refer back to her notes and find some better answer so that the House may be rather better served.

I was suggesting that the answer was that this matter might have slipped into somebody's "In" tray, becoming buried deeper and deeper, until it found its way to the bottom, when, at long last, twelve years later, someone turned the "In" tray out and discovered it. That would be an intelligible answer, if not a very pleasing or sufficient answer. If it is the true answer, I hope that the hon. Lady will say so. If it is the answer, it is a rather disgraceful one, and the Government really ought to pay the forfeit in terms of public confidence which that type of negligence requires. I hope that the hon. Lady will find out about it, if she has not yet obtained the necessary material to be able to answer the question. It was the very first question asked in another place, and it is the very first question which I put to the hon. Lady here. I hope that, if the House gives her leave to speak again, she will deal with it, because there ought to be an explanation rather better than the inadequate reply given in another place of why this matter was allowed to lie fallow for year after year.

I do not quite understand what is behind this little Bill. As the hon. Lady said, it does not raise any great issue of principle. What it does is to apply the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, to civilian and military members of certain designated headquarters, and it then purports to give certain privileges to those headquarters when they have been designated, for example, by constituting them corporate entities, these being the sort of privileges which are conferred by the legislation which deals with international organisations. This is all perfectly clear and familiar, and nothing much is involved in it.

But now comes this question which I put to the hon. Lady. Clause 1(2) purports to extend certain privileges of the Visiting Farces Act not to the members of the headquarters but to the headquarters themselves. I should be very grateful if the hon. Lady would tell us what these provisions are. If I may respectfully say so, she ought to know if she is asking us to approve the Bill. It may be that the provisions are those set out in paragraph 7 of the Schedule, namely, Sections 8 and 9 of the Visiting Forces Act; but I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to tell us whether this is so or whether there is some other provision we ought to know about but which has escaped my attention in studying the Bill. I should be grateful if the hon. Lady would inform herself about that if she does not already know.

Next, what is the position to date with regard to these headquarters? None of the headquarters is designated, apparently—obviously not, because the Bill has not been passed—but where are they now and where are they functioning? Clause 1(1) does not seem to be limited to international headquarters or defence organisations which are to be set up in the United Kingdom. There is no territorial limitation in the wording. Is it intended that there should be that territorial limitation? Is it meant that the Bill is to apply only to headquarters which are set up in this country? I had rather assumed that that was the case, but I should like to know from the hon. Lady whether that is what is intended. In other words, is it intended that certain headquarters are now to be set up in this country and that in order to implement the agreement of 1952 it is now necessary to give it legislative effect in the Bill?

Can the hon. Lady tell me why in Clause 1(1) it is not indicated, so far as I can see, whether the headquarters and organisations envisaged are those headquarters and organisations which hitherto have not been in this country but which are now to be set up in this country? Is that the idea behind the Bill? If that is so, it may afford some answer to the considerable delay. Perhaps if they have not been set up here yet, it has not been considered necessary to implement the Bill. If that is the answer, I should like to know, and I hope that the hon. Lady will tell me.

Apart from that, as the hon. Lady has said, there is not very much in the Bill. All it does is to apply the Visiting Forces Act to military and civilian members of these headquarters. I do not quite understand how it is at the moment there are some such civilian and military members who are already affected by the Bill before it is passed. I understood the hon. Lady to say that in round figures there were about 100 persons already within the scope of the Bill. What has been their position hitherto?

Miss Pike

There have been 37 serving in this country and 116 in Gibraltar and Malta.

Sir F. Soskice

What has been their position hitherto? To what courts have they been subject and to what jurisdiction of what courts were they amenable in respect of any of the offences within the purview of the Bill? Have they been subject to the jurisdiction of their own courts, or to the jurisdiction of courts in Malta and Gibraltar and this country? What has been their position and why has it not been regularised for all these years? How long have they been officers or civilian members who would be affected by the Bill, and why have they been left dangling in the air, as it were?

I do not want greatly to prolong the discussion. I have put what seems to me the important points which arise on the Bill, to the extent that the Bill can be said to raise important issues. We will be very grateful if the hon. Lady asks permission of the House and obtains it, if she will seek to amplify her brief rather more fully by giving me answers to some of my questions.

8.54 p.m.

Commander J. S. Kerans (The Hartlepools)

The Bill goes back to legislation of 1950. Are we discussing international organisations which have been established since? Are not some of these organisations which have been established for a very long time? Where are we getting with a Bill of this nature, and what are we discussing right now? It seems the essence of vagueness, to say the least, for we have had the Visiting Forces Act going on for a very long time and yet we are now suddenly faced with a document of four or five pages which it is proposed to rush through the House.

I should like some explanation of what is meant. What is a headquarters organisation? Half these organisations already exist in this country. Why should we have to have a Bill like this at this late stage? The Bill does not seem to make sense in this modern age, and we ought to have a clear-cut explanation of the Government's intentions.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)

I am sure that the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State will forgive me for saying this, because I intend no discourtesy to her. I hope that before we conclude his debate we shall have with us the Ministers who are responsible, on the one hand, for the defence aspects of the matter under discussion, and, on the other, for the constitutional aspect of it.

This is not an unimportant little Bill, purely technical in character. This is a Bill which makes a fundamental constitutional departure in that it provides for a derogation of British sovereignty in favour of a supranational organisation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) referred to the fact that it had taken the Government, or should I say successive Governments, eleven and a half years to make up their minds to present the Bill to the House. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend was being a little too charitable to the Government in suggesting that that was pure negligence. I cannot believe that even three successive Conservative Governments can have been so negligent as simply to forget the existence of the Protocol which was adopted in Paris on 28th August, 1952, and which has not yet been ratified by this country.

The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says—and the hon. Lady said it, too—that The Bill is intended to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters set up pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty. But there is nothing in the Bill to limit it to that application. The Bill is entituled An Act to make provision as to certain international headquarters and defence organisations". and Clause 1 refers to any international headquarters or defence organisation… It is, therefore, perfectly clear that the Bill can be made to apply to any other defence organisation to which this country is a party.

My sole reason for not opposing the Second Reading of the Bill is that it can be applied to organisations other than the ones to which the hon. Lady referred. During the Committee stage of the Bill I shall move Amendments to lay down more precise conditions about the type of organisation to which the Bill can refer.

Let us try to come back to the reason for this long delay in ratifying this protocol. It is clear that there must be specific reasons. The only two that occur to me are, first, that the occasion for setting up an international defence headquarters in this country or on British territory has not yet arisen, and it is proposed that it shall arise in the near future. The other explanation is that this Protocol, when ratified by Her Majesty's Government, limits British sovereignty in a manner in which it had not been limited hitherto in respect of any other corporate body.

Commander Kerans

Will the hon. Member say exactly what he means by that?

Mr. Warbey

I was going on to explain that point. Clause 1(1) says: Her Majesty may by Order in Council designate the headquarters or organisation for the purposes of this Act and confer on it the legal capacity of a body corporate and, to such extent as may be specified in the Order…immunity from suit and legal process…the like privileges…as are accorded to an envoy of a foreign sovereign power accredited to Her Majesty. In that context the phrase "of a foreign sovereign power" is a very interesting one, because an Order in Council made under the Bill will, if the Protocol is ratified, crate a body corporate within the powers, in certain respects, of an independent State.

I would like the House to have the advice of the Attorney-General on this point. What will be the status, in international and municipal law, of the corporate bodies on which the powers will be conferred and to which these immunities and privileges will be granted under these Orders in Council? First, it is clear that as corporate bodies they would have certain juridical and quasi-political powers. Article 4 of the Protocol provides that The rights and obligations which the Agreement gives to or imposes upon the sending State or its authorities shall, in respect of an Allied Headquarters…be vested in or attached to the appropriate Supreme Headquarters and the authorities responsible under it with certain exceptions.

I hope that the hon. Lady is following what I am saying. It is very germane to the Bill because, as she has said, the purpose of the Bill is to make it possible to ratify the Protocol. It seems that the body corporate designated under the Bill will take over the rights of individual nation-States in certain respects. Moreover, Article 8, referring to the operation and maintenance of Allied Headquarters, says that each Party to the present Protocol shall enter into negotiations with any Allied Headquarters operating in its territory for the purpose of concluding an agreement…"— in other words, where a nation State enters into negotiations with this body corporate about the way in which it functions here. The term "negotiations" is used as between independent political and juridical parties, and this further confirms me in the view that what is being done under the Bill is to confer supranational powers on a defence headquarters. Under Article 12 these allied headquarters may hold currency of any kind and operate accounts in any currency. Presumably it will be exempt from the sterling currency regulations which we operate.

Coming back to the Bill, we find that in addition to having all these powers this body corporate will be treated in respect of its documents as the envoy of a foreign sovereign Power accredited to Her Majesty.

Commander Kerans

From where does that last quotation come?

Mr. Warbey

I have been quoting from the Protocol, but my last quotation came from Clause 1(1,b), which says that this body corporate shall have conferred upon it the like privileges as respects the inviolability of official archives as are accorded to an envoy of a foreign sovereign power accredited to Her Majesty. This body corporate is specifically compared with a foreign Power in certain respects. This confirms me in the view that if the Bill is passed it will be treated as an independent sovereign Power.

Moreover, there is a provision in the Protocol that this body corporate shall have individual members and that they themselves shall enjoy certain rights, privileges and immunities by virtue of the fact that they are members of this body corporate. They will be treated as individual citizens of this foreign State. What we are doing under this simple, little, purely technical Bill is to make it possible to establish in this country an independent sovereign Power having control over the defence expenditure and the armed forces of a number of countries, including our own, amounting to millions of men and billions of pounds. This is rather a tall order, and we are owed a very clear explanation from the Government as to how they view the status of this proposed body in international law and in relation to the sovereignty of this country.

What is, in effect, being proposed is that we should derogate a portion of British sovereignty to a super-State. I have no objection. In this case it is not an individual State to which we are derogating sovereignty. It is not an exact parallel with the immunities we grant to the envoys of foreign Powers, because those are on the same basis of sovereign equality with ours and we are able to obtain reciprocal arrangements with them. If they do not accord to our envoys the same privileges, immunities and rights, we can cut off theirs unilaterally.

We have not that defence in the case of what is proposed under the Bill. Where is the real reciprocity in this case? There is none. In other words, we are not dealing as equals. We are dealing with some authority which is higher than the authority of this country. It is either higher or lower. It is certainly not equal. It is a higher authority. It is like the High Authority of the Coal and Steel Community in Luxembourg. It is certainly a higher authority, a supra-national authority.

I have no objection in principle to the abandonment to the policy of British sovereignty to a supra-national organisation, but the country should be told that that is what we are doing. This should not be smuggled through as though it were a purely technical matter. After all, the Government would have had to do something like this if we had signed the Treaty of Rome and entered the Common Market. We would have had to have a Bill conferring similar rights, immunities and privileges on the corporate institutions of the Common Market, including the Commission. But the Government are now proposing to confer on a military headquarters the kind of powers that they would have had to confer upon the European Economic Commission and the other bodies if we had joined the Common Market and signed the Treaty of Rome.

I repeat that I have no objection in principle and I have no objection to it in the realm of defence, because I, like most hon. Members, am convinced that the security of this country can no longer be protected by this country acting alone. I believe that the security of this country can be protected in the last resort, not by any sectional alliance, but by the United Nations. It so happens that the only supra-national organisation to which we have so far derogated our sovereignty is the United Nations.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been deploying his case with some illustrations, but I think that he is now going too far.

Mr. Warbey

I was just coming on to make the point that in the Bill we are derogating national sovereignty to a supranational body or organisation. I was going on to say that I welcome the Bill to the extent that we are doing so, but I think that I would be entitled to add that we cannot, without a specific decision of the British Parliament, derogate our national sovereignty to any supra-national organisation other than the United Nations, to which we have derogated our sovereignty by signing its Charter, Article 49, for example, of which shows that we have derogated our sovereignty to the Security Council. Article 49 states that members of the United Nations should join in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council.

Thai is a derogation of sovereignty to a supra-national organisation, but it is the only Treaty in which we have done that. We have not done it in the North Atlantic Treaty. The Joint Under-Secretary will, if she consults Article 5 of that Treaty, find that we have retained our national rights there. Therefore, we have no powers to derogate our national sovereignty to any supra-national body set up by N.A.T.O. However, we have powers to derogate it to such a body set up by the U.N. It is for this reason that I welcome the Bill and I will, in Committee, table Amendments to this effect.

9.17 p.m.

Captain Litchfield (Chelsea)

This is obviously a necessary and sensible Bill. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the privileges which are being accorded to sovereign nationals in the Schedule to the Bill are reciprocal and that they would be extended in similar circumstances to nationals of this country?

9.18 p.m.

Miss Pike

With the leave of the House, I will try to clear up some of the points which have been made. I had hoped, by sticking closely to the notes I had carefully prepared—because being no lawyer, unlike the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), I was anxious not to mislead the House—to make the position crystal clear and simple. It appears, however, that my remarks have not been fully understood. Perhaps I spoke too quickly in some parts of my speech.

The right hon. and learned Member for Newport teased me about the delay in submitting the Bill to the House. I think he recognises that the answer I must give in all honesty is the simple one which my noble Friend gave in another place, namely, that there has been a considerable amount of legislation in recent years—important legislation to the country—and that the legislative programme has been so full that time has not been found for this Bill. There has been no particular urgency about the Bill, and it is a good thing that we now have the opportunity to ratify the Protocol to the 1952 Agreement. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentlemen will appreciate that this is the only reason why the Bill has not been brought before the House before.

Sir F. Soskice

Do I understand the hon. Lady aright? I wish to ensure that I am not misled by the apparent simplicity of her answer. Is she telling the House that in the past 12 years it would have been quite impossible to have taken this trivial little Bill some afternoon or evening when the House was sitting? Does she mean that to be her answer?

Miss Pike

I am not saying that it would have been impossible; just that it has been an extremely full legislative programme and that there have been considerably more urgent Measures than this one. Had we delayed the House, possibly late some night 10 years ago, then, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we could have got the Bill through. This is a convenient and, perhaps, rather sterile argument. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made his point. He believes that we should have done this sooner. However, since we have the Bill before the House now. I hope that he will not delay it any longer than is absolutely necessary.

The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) was worried about the extent to which the Bill was taking us. He perhaps did not appreciate what I said when I tried to describe the Bill as not bringing in any new point of principle. It does not make any innovations. As I said in my opening remarks, the privileges and immunities which are given to the headquarters are such as may have been given to international organisations under the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950.

Mr. Warbey

I heard the hon. Lady say that in her opening remarks. I was hoping that she would explain why that Act has remained a dead letter until now and why, for the first time, it is now proposed to apply it in practice. Why now, at this point of time, are we proposing to start setting up a supranational body and giving it room in this country.

Miss Pike

The hon. Gentleman is being a little ingenious. He must recognise that the purpose of the Bill is to enable us to ratify the Protocol of the 1952 Agreement; and that by it we are taking power to designate defence organisations, something that has to be confirmed by affirmative Resolution of the House.

The hon. Gentleman asked why I had only mentioned N.A.T.O. I hoped that I had explained that the Bill would enable us to designate headquarters or defence organisations set up under any defence agreement to which the United Kingdom was a party, but that the present intention is to designate only certain N.A.T.O. headquarters as are required by the 1952 Protocol. I explained that the purpose was to designate such N.A.T.O. headquarters and defence headquarters as the Supreme Headquarters, which has staffs here now, headquarters of the C.-in.C., and so on, amounting to about 37 people at present.

It is important that we should have this power. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that embarrassment could have been caused by our not having this Measure on the Statute Book. No incident has so far occurred to put us in difficulties, but we might well be in some embarrassment in future without having these powers to enable us to carry out our responsibility.

There is very full reciprocity. All the other Powers in the N.A.T.O. organisation, except Canada and Western Germany —which intends to ratify as soon as possible—have ratified the Protocol. We, indeed, are the laggards—

Commander Kerans

I am sure that most members of the Armed Forces will welcome this Bill, even though it has taken all this time to bring it forward, because it is an essential adjunct in the modern age.

Miss Pike

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Article 8 of the Protocol, which deals with relief from duties and taxes. That matter has already been dealt with by Sections 73 and 74 of the Finance Act, 1960.

I am sure that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to paragraph 7 of the Schedule he knew the answer—he is very skilled at reading and understanding these documents. This paragraph is relevant to the reference in Clause 1(2) to headquarters, as distinct from members and persons concerned with headquarters—

Captain Litchfield

I am sorry, but I must persist on the question of reciprocity. Is the reciprocity guaranteed by any form of legislation in these other countries?

Miss Pike

As I understand it—and I hope that I ant not misleading my hon. and gallant Friend—other countries have passed legislation enabling them to ratify the Protocol, and we could not do that until legislation in this form was passed here—

Mr. Warbey

Will the hon. Lady answer my question about what will be the political and judicial status of these bodies corporate in international and municipal law?

Miss Pike

I understand that that status will be exactly as it is under the Immunities and Privileges Act, 1950.

This is an important Bill. I take the point that it could well have been put on the Statute Book sooner. It is a Bill that everyone welcomes, and I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. MacArthur.]

Committee Tomorrow.