§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
I beg to move, in page 3, line 31, to leave out Clause 7.
In welcoming this Bill, as I believe we all do, one should draw attention to Clause 7 which, in the view of some of us, reveals a situation that is objectionable on two main grounds.
The first is general. The House is being asked to give blanket approval to a Clause which refers to the continuation and perhaps the perpetuation of certain unspecified agreements with a number of unspecified countries. These details about the Clause—I would call them fundamental points—are to be indicated to the House and the country by notice in the Official Gazettes at a time subsequent to the passing of the Bill. I believe that sort of procedure to be quite wrong.
The second objection is that the provisions of Clause 7 are unnecessary because, on reading closely the articles of the Convention, it is clear that sanctions within those Articles are adequate to meet the situation which is ostensibly that which the Government are attempting to meet by Clause 7. If Clause 3 of the Bill is added to these powers—it 874 is already outside the terms of the Convention itself—then ample sanctions are already available without this pernicious Clause 7.
Perhaps the House will permit me to give a short study of the background of the past 15 years against which we must set the need or otherwise for Clause 7. I must confess to having found some difficulty in extracting information referring to salient points of this very important question. Since 1949, 17 East European diplomatic agents, as they will be described in the Convention, have been declared persona non grata. I think that it is common knowledge that perhaps an equivalent number—one does not know how many—have left with a certain degree of haste before revelations in the Press concerning security cases. I could mention the names Rogov, Ivanov and Gregory, whose proper name I do not know, as evidence of leaving the country hastily before the opportunity, if it were to be found necessary, of declaring them persona non grata under the terms of diplomatic custom at the moment and under the provisions of this Convention which we are ratifying. It is interesting in this context to recall that the French, with somewhat similar problems, have declared perhaps three times the number that we have persona non grata in this period.
Further, during these fifteen years, we have had in this country no fewer than 13 convictions and five courts-martial of members of the Armed Forces for treasonable contact with foreign countries with sentences amounting to the extraordinary total of 240 years of imprisonment. This is the background against which we are considering the terms of Clause 7, and I think that it will be agreed that these are at least partly the consequences of a steady and serious abuse of diplomatic immunities during that period and that is a fact that is quite unquestionable in the minds of reasonable men.
On the other side of the medal, over this period there were 200 British diplomatic personnel who had to leave appointments in certain difficult countries earlier than would otherwise be the case. Seventy eight of those leaving have been for reasons of misconduct or unsuitaability. It is here that we see the completely undiplomatic attitude by certain foreign countries to our representatives overseas and types of pressure 875 which it is the purpose of my hon. Friend in introducing Clause 7, to protect our own representatives against.
Of course, in this House we all agree that the maximum of protection must be given to our diplomatic representatives abroad, wherever they may be. I contend, in considering this Clause, that the price we have to pay for that may be in some cases too high. We have the targets—successful targets for attack. We know about Vassall, Houghton and the sad case of the air attaché in Warsaw some years back, and we know of other undoubted successes of the activities of certain organisations in these countries against our own representatives. We have evidence that the security of my hon. Friend's Department through the years has been the cause of certain disquiet in the House of Commons and to the public at large. We have the names of four individuals who, for many years have occupied positions of considerable responsibility within the Foreign Office, and have been found to have been engaged in treasonable activities. We have the admission by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) in a debate last year that there might well be other cases of this kind.
What action was taken before the introduction of this Bill to guard against this menace to our national security? In 1955, in my hon. Friend's Department his predecessor introduced the Diplomatic Immunities Restriction Bill, which, having been operating for nine years, now forms virtually Clause 3 of the Bill and which it would not be in order for me to refer to now. That action has been taken and I am sure it has been found useful. But in Clause 7 we have something entirely new. We have agreements with four unspecified countries concluded, apparently—we do not know, because we are not told—nine years ago by correspondence between the representatives of Governments which have been binding on this country for at least nine years, unknown to the House of Commons, as far as I am aware, and which are now to be continued and perhaps perpetuated by Clause 7. We are not told which are these countries and perhaps, therefore, 876 I could use that overworked term "Ruritania".
It is a fact, which has been elicited in questions since we discussed this matter in Committee, that 240 representatives of Ruritanian embassies, including wives, have now and will continue to have by the provisions of Clause 7 complete diplomatic immunity of the category which will be given to diplomatic agents in future—to cooks, servants, and chauffeurs—equivalent to that which is given to the ambassadors themselves.
On the other side—and it is here, I am sure, that lies the real reason for the introduction of the Clause—we have a total of 190 of our own personnel in these Ruritanian countries. Who, my hon. Friend hopes, will be similarly safeguarded by being given a very high degree of diplomatic immunity. Perhaps it would be relevant to mention a comparison of numbers, which, I think, is related to Clause 7. There are already about 230 more Ruritanian diplomatic representatives in this country than corresponding British representation in their countries. To sum up my first point, this House is being asked to give blanket approval to the continuation of an unsatisfactory situation. I would suggest that here we have revealed a situation, a "diplomatic" situation, in which this country loses at every point and suffers disadvantage, and this is the nub of the matter.
We are being asked in Clause 7 to sign a blank cheque for the Government. The figures will be filled in after publication in the Gazettes, subsequent to the passing of this Bill, and I believe it to be quite contrary to the general practice of the conduct of such affairs in this country. Which of these four countries, the most important four—I am not talking about the nine, because if I went into that I should be delaying the House unduly—are being given a degree of immunity much higher than that customary in diplomatic practice? In my view, unless we can be told which are these four countries and the nature of the agreements between representatives of the Governments signed about nine years ago, we should not be asked to pass this Bill and we should consider 877 Clause 7 unacceptable without that information.
I come now to my second objection and my other reason why Clause 7 is unnecessary. The Convention, which is accepted on both sides of the House, gives a definition of the lawful means of ascertaining information by diplomatic agents. This definition is in Article 3(1). Surely that implies that if it can be proved that a diplomatic agent is doing these things by unlawful means, it is possible to take certain action against him in this country under the law of this country?
Article 9 of the Convention, which is internationally applied, allows my hon. Friend to declare a diplomat to be persona non grata without giving his reasons for doing so, which is a very strong sanction. I have shown the imbalance of numbers, and Article 11 allows my hon. Friend to redress the imbalance by asking for reciprocity of representation between respective countries.
Article 15 allows for classes of diplomats to be agreed between the parties concerned, which would also enable my hon. Friend to redress some of the imbalance to which I have drawn attention. By Article 12, which refers to premises, if my hon. Friend wished, he would be able to declare separate commercial premises of the Ruritanian mission to be no longer part of the mission, and therefore no longer to have diplomatic immunity.
Quite apart from those provisions of the Convention which I have briefly recapitulated, Clause 3 perpetuates the Diplomatic Immunities Restriction Act, 1955, which gives an extra sanction to my hon. Friend which is quite outside the provisions of the Convention.
If the powers of the Convention and of Clause 3 are properly applied, there is no reason for the extra allowance given by Clause 7, particularly in respect of these four unspecified countries. I believe that it is the policy of certain countries, countries which do not observe the rule of law as we do in this country, to bring pressure to bear on British diplomatic representatives abroad, perhaps with many objects, but certainly with the object of obtaining a reciprocity of diplomatic immunities and privileges in our country for their representatives 878 over and above what is allowed for internationally by the Convention.
It is 1,000 years since we learned in this country that danegeld does not pay, and that pressure of this kind to extract a corresponding advantage at the other end must not be allowed to continue indefinitely. I believe that this principle is at stake in Clause 7, which is why I urge its rejection.
§ Captain Litchfield
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) has a unique experience of the subject covered by the Bill and he speaks with authority. I am very glad to support his Amendment. As has emerged from the discussion of the first Amendment this morning, the Bill lacks the perfection of precision and clarity which usually mark Bills brought forward by my right hon. Friends. I cannot see that acceptance of the Amendment would in any way weaken or change the purpose of the Bill as a whole.
I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is genuinely persuaded by his advisers that the inclusion of Clause (7) is necessary to protect and safeguard the interests of our own missions in certain foreign countries, and of course we all fully accept the importance of doing this. But that is not the question. The question is whether this is the proper way to go about it.
As I understand it, the Clause is designed to regularise the private, or should one say comradely, agreements which the Foreign Office has already made with certain unnamed foreign Governments, by which the nationals in the respective missions are granted mutual immunities and protection. These comradely agreements arise not from any special degree of friendship or friendly relations with the other Governments, these unnamed foreign Governments, but rather from our fear that without such agreements the persons and the property and the diplomatic privileges of our own missions in those countries would not be respected.
This seems to me to be an objectionable arrangement, both in principle and in practice. As my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out, to begin with we do not know who these foreign Governments are or may be. We have not been told the precise terms, nor indeed any 879 terms, of the special agreements or arrangements mentioned in the Clause. We do not know the number of persons in the foreign missions in this country to whom these agreements are to apply, nor whether there will be any reciprocity in numbers. As my hon. and gallant Friend has so ably pointed out, we are being asked to sign a blank cheque.
As to the practical side of the proposals, I do not feel any particular confidence that the terms of these private arrangements will be respected to any greater degree in the future than they have been in the past. Article 22 of the Convention says:The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.Does the Foreign Office think that the microphones, which from time to time are discovered in the walls of Western embassies in Moscow, just grew there? Or did the head of the mission give his consent to their installation? There has already been the most widespread abuse of these agreements and I dare say that this is still going on. Of course, if my hon. Friend can assure the House that the principle of reciprocity is observed in such case, and that for every clandestine microphone discovered in a British mission in Moscow, or any other capital, there is one in the foreign embassy concerned in London, we might feel a little reassured. But I rather think that the security in foreign missions, particularly Soviet missions, in London may be a little tighter than in British missions abroad—even if such gross breaches of diplomatic privilege would be entertained for a moment by Her Majesty's Government, which I am sure they would not.
What do we get in return for these somewhat doubtful safeguards for our own missions abroad? If the Clause remains in the Bill, we are by Act of Parliament to extend total diplomatic immunity to whole regiments of diplomatic camp followers—domestic servants, chauffeurs, typists, cooks, attachés, the lot. Among these regiments of followers to whom we are proposing to extend this immunity there may be a considerable element of espionage. Under these private arrangements, these comparatively humble members of the camp are to have the same privileges as the ambassador 880 himself. What is more, they are going to have greater immunities and greater privileges than their opposite numbers in the embassies of our best friends in London. What are they going to say about this?
There is, I think, a more serious aspect to it than that. As my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, over the years these unnamed foreign Governments have pursued a calculated policy of making life as difficult as possible for our own missions, to an intolerable degree in some cases, in order to establish a position in which, as the price of relaxing these abuses, they demand exceptional privileges for their own missions in this country. This is what they have tried to do, and Clause 7 shows that they have succeeded.
As I said earlier, I do not think that this is really the right way to deal with the situation. I shall not go so far as to describe the Clause as appeasement, but the position at which we have arrived is certainly a little reminiscent of the Nazi policy of establishing a position by gross violation of their neighbours' backyards and then obtaining concessions as the price of promising not to go any further. I do not feel confidence in these agreements when we are dealing with people who do not play to the same rules.
I do not understand—and this was pointed out very clearly by my hon. and gallant Friend—why it is thought necessary to put this gloss on the Vienna Convention, which surely provides all the powers and sanctions that are needed to deal with this sort of situation in our missions abroad and to protect and safeguard their interests and their privileges. The Convention provides ample powers of retaliation, and, as my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, Clause 3 enables Her Majesty's Government to take reciprocal action if the privileges and immunities accorded to a British mission abroad are found to be less than those conferred by the Bill on the foreign mission in this country.
Thus, there are ample sanctions already available, if only Her Majesty's Government can screw up their courage, or should I say the Foreign Office can screw up its courage, to apply them and to make use of them, without these hole 881 and corner agreements about which we know so little, and the extent and application of which are unrevealed.
I appreciate that there may be stronger reasons why these special arrangements are really necessary, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say a little more than has been said so far. If he wants the House to write a blank cheque of this kind on such slender information as we have at the moment he really ought to be a little more forthcoming, and I sincerely hope that he will be.
Her Majesty's Government are in a state of peaceful relations with the Governments concerned, or who I suspect are the Governments concerned, and it seems to me that the normal practices of diplomatic privilege should apply reciprocally in these cases. As I asked before, what are our closest friends and allies going to say if we afford these special privileges to those who are not such firm friends as they are?
Finally, I think that there is quite an important point of principle at issue here, and I hope very much that my hon. Friend will resolve it. It is not right that we should be asked to write this blank cheque without any knowledge of the past agreements, without any knowledge of the circumstances in which these agreements were entered into, and without any knowledge of the countries to which these arrangements should apply. With the best will in the world, I think that this is an occasion when we ought to remind the Foreign Office that it is subject to Parliamentary control, and that Parliament will give it every support, provided that we have the necessary information on which to judge the requirement fairly. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us a good deal more information than we have had so far.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
In his most interesting discourse my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) referred to some of these countries as Ruritania. I have always thought of Ruritania as being romantic and gay. I think that we are in fact dealing with people who are cold, calculating, hard and merciless in their application of espionage under any cloak that they can obtain.
882 I support my hon. and gallant Friend in his efforts to get the Clause deleted. I believe that it is important to do this, and that it will strengthen the Bill. As my hon. and gallant Friend explained, it is designed to continue these private agreements between the Foreign Office and certain other countries whom we do not know over the granting of special diplomatic immunities. This will rankle severely in the minds of many people when they realise that, welcome as the Bill is, there will be these exceptions. I think that this provision undermines the Bill which we all welcome.
I believe that there is an inherent feeling in this country that the granting of special privileges to anybody is fundamentally wrong. We in this country practise perhaps the finest form of democracy in the world. It has been evolved over the centuries, and we have more or less eliminated privileges which existed in the past. Today we are in the situation where all of us, whether famous and influential, or poor and unknown, or not recognised by anybody in particular, have the same law applied to us as individuals, and as a consequence we do not ask for special favours. We believe that the law should apply to everybody, including foreigners of particular countries, and I therefore think that the Bill, with this Clause, goes against that feeling.
This is not just a case of granting privileges to minor staffs who do not matter in certain embassies. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) rightly said, in some embassies the chauffeur who drives the ambassador around the city is more highly thought of in his own country than the ambassador, because he may well be the head of espionage in this country. We therefore cannot overlook the cooks, the typists, and the chauffeurs. They all come within the category of people who may be working against us in certain circumstances.
Some time ago I came into contact with the official of a certain Ruritanian embassy in this country. I knew that he mixed freely with leading editors and journalists in Fleet Street and with Members of Parliament, and that he moved about the country very freely indeed. He seemed to have lots of special privileges in his own embassy. Ostensibly 883 he was a diplomat doing an ordinary job of public relations for his country. In fact, he was operating under a false name and under false colours. I suspect that he was probably a far bigger menace than the notorious Ivanov who figured in a notorious case last year, as was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend. Indeed, I believe that he was that country's top spy. I am glad that he now appears to have returned to his own country. It shocks and horrifies me to think that that man was immune diplomatically, as were other people of certain other embassies at that time, and under the Bill would again be immune from any form of civil or criminal prosecution.
I do not think that we should be bullied because of the treatment which is sometimes meted out to our staffs in embassies abroad. I think that we have to try some other ideas for getting together with these other countries and making sure that there is this type of understanding which is necessary to the granting of special privileges. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea said, the question really is whether this is the right way to go about it. I would not have thought so, and I hope that my hon. Friend and the Foreign Office will look at this matter again, because there is strong feeling about it. Indeed, there are perhaps other ways of going about it and of achieving what we want to achieve without having this Clause, which gives unfair advantage to a certain number of people some of whom may definitely be working against this country's interests.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
It seems to me that the House is in danger of getting a little off the target. I should have thought that the Government would be wise to take powers under the Bill to conclude certain bilateral agreements of a reciprocal nature with other countries. "Reciprocal" is the operative word. I do not think that this is anything to do with friend or foe. Nor do I think that the conclusion of certain bilateral reciprocal agreements would offend other countries represented here which do not have those sorts of agreements with us.
884 As far as I am aware—and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong—there is nothing in the Convention which could prevent any signatory concluding a bilateral agreement of a special nature on a reciprocal basis with any other country if, on the whole, it thought that it would be wise for that country to do so. Still less do I think that this has anything to do with espionage. It does not make the catching of people like Vassall or anybody else any easier. It is totally irrelevant and nothing to do with the matter. I do not think that either today or on any other occasion on the Floor of the House can my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State or any other Minister be expected to discuss microphones and espionage and counter-espionage. That is absolutely irrelevant to the Bill.
I do not understand how the omission of Clause 7 would have any effect on security. I think that it is irrelevant to the cases which have been mentioned. I shall be interested in my hon. Friend's reply, but I am bound to say from what little I know about this matter that the Government would be wise to take whatever extra powers they want to conclude certain bilateral agreements of a reciprocal nature with certain other countries.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
Both my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney), whom we heard in Committee, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield), whom we have heard today, have great experience in certain fields, and I think that we all respect them for it. During the Committee stage the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) was the operative one. We are here today to discuss not what goes on inside embassies but a very wide Measure concerning diplomatic privilege. Logically we must divorce these two things and put them into separate compartments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) mentioned the question of privilege. I think that we are all cognisant of the fact, whatever our walk of life, that we are expected to obey the law 885 and order of the country. But diplomatic privilege is an entirely different matter. It has been accepted for a long time that if a diplomat in any country is to do his job properly certain immunities and protections are essential for the fulfilment of it. I am not saying that they are not abused, but this is not the point that we are discussing.
The object of the Bill, as has been quite rightly said, is to ratify the Convention, and it is true that by leaving Clause 7 in the Bill we are adding something to it. However, I think that we must admit that if we were to take the Clause out we could still ratify the Convention. But we should look a little more carefully into the Clause with the nine members who are signatories to special agreements to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State referred in Committee in column 31 on 9th July.
There are two points of substance. First, we have come to solemn agreements on certain points with these countries. If we were not to accept them almost automatically they would have no force of law in this country and, at the same time, we should be in the position of having to negotiate with each of them and of having to write to them saying, "We are sorry, but the agreements which we have made no longer have the force of law."
As my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor said, there are circumstances in which the Government may wish, for various reasons, to extend the provisions of the Bill. I think it quite right that we should give the Government that power, and I have no hesitation in coming down on the Government's side. It would be difficult for us to retract these agreements and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor said, I do not think that it is for us on the Floor of the House to try to extract from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State information which it is not necessary or desirable to give on the Floor of the House. Questions of security and particular arrangements are best dealt with in the way in which they are dealt with now.
What we have to do—and I do not think that any hon. Member would disagree with this—is to make sure that 886 people who are working in embassies where conditions are difficult are given the maximum support. If Clause 7 does anything to help them, I am perfectly willing to see it passed.
§ Captain Litchfield
There has been no suggestion, certainly by me, nor I think by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney), that matters of security should be discussed on the Floor of the House. Our request basically is for information on agreements entered into without the knowledge of the House.
§ Dr. Glyn
I am in sympathy with my hon. and gallant Friend—I hope that I did not misinterpret him—but I feel that these are agreements about which we should not have information. During the Committee stage my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said that he would have to get the sanction of the Governments who had signed these special agreements before he revealed either the Governments or the contents of them.
§ Commander Courtney
Is my hon. Friend really suggesting that Departments of State should, by correspondence between representatives of Governments, conclude agreements with foreign countries which we in the House of Commons are not allowed to question and that we should not ask either with whom the agreements have been made or the contents of them? If so, is he not rather abdicating his position as a Member of the House of Commons?
§ Dr. Glyn
I think that where an exchange of letters on certain matters has taken place, if the Government with which correspondence has been carried on says that it was a confidential document between the two Governments, that document should not be produced without the consent of the reciprocal Government.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is a Friday. We must have some finality about the process of sitting down.
§ Mr. Mathew
I think that the whole House appreciates the sincerity of the anxieties of my hon and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) about these matters, but, 887 having listened to him today, on Second Reading and on several occasions in Committee, it seems to me that he is under some misconception about the reason for Clause 7 and its effect. We put the Clause in the Bill in order to give legal effect to the provisions of bilateral arrangements or agreements with certain foreign countries on jurisdictional immunity and Customs franchise. These arrangements exist, and we are not in a position to terminate them unilaterally, even if we wished to do so, which, for good reasons which I hope to give, we do not wish to do.
The Clause does not increase either immunities or privileges, and it struck me that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) was under very great misapprehension here. He talked repeatedly of the extension of privileges and immunities, and as if this was something new. At the time that these arrangements were come to nothing was added. It was a preservation of the position which had formerly been normal and which had been modified by legislation in the case of the greater number of countries with whom we had diplomatic relations. There is nothing new there.
§ Commander Courtney
My hon. Friend mentioned legislation, but does he appreciate that Clause 7 was introduced at a later stage whereas this Bill had already been tabled in another place? It would seem, therefore, that it was an afterthought. Will my hon. Friend perhaps agree with me that had the Bill gone through as originally drafted, we should Dot at the moment know even of the existence of the arrangements with these four and nine countries respectively?
§ Mr. Mathew
I will deal with the difficulty of the arrangements being there when I come to answer the points made about Article 47.
There were two alternatives, and we have used the one which we thought would be most acceptable to the House. I would stress, however, that we are not in a position to terminate the arrangements unilaterally and that there is no increase here of immunities or priviliges. It preserves the existing immunities and privileges which this country is bound to afford under these bilateral agreements.
§ Captain Litchfield
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, I do not quite understand what he means when he says that this does not extend immunities, because the wording of Clause 7 is, in fact:this Act provides for extending.
§ Mr. Mathew
This arises out of Article 47 of the Convention, but what I am saying is that what was formerly normal is the basis of the immunity and privilege accorded to the diplomats of four countries by these special arrangements or agreements. It is expected, of course, that the foreign States concerned will continue, reciprocally, to treat the corresponding grades in Her Majesty's diplomatic missions similarly. The basic reason for including in Clause 7(1,a) the reference to arrangements relating to jurisdictional immunity is, quite simply, the national interest. This has been stressed by a number of my hon. Friends and I cannot over-stress it to the House. It is the basic reason for these arrangements or agreements. It requires that all members of the staffs of Her Majesty's diplomatic missions in some four politically sensitive countries should enjoy the maximum protection from malicious persecution and subversion.
This protection is considered essential to our own security. Far from creating a threat to national security, the effect of the provision is thus to strengthen our security. We are not in the habit in this country of using threats of arrest or of other jurisdictional action in order to blackmail and subvert non-diplomatic staffs of foreign missions. Other people, unfortunately, are. We lose nothing, as far as security is concerned, by granting the jurisdictional immunity required by these arrangements, but we gain a great deal in terms of security by obtaining protection for our own staff in the countries concerned.
Most of the cases mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East concerned people of the rank of attaché and above who would have been covered in any event by immunity. As I say, we lose nothing as far as security is concerned and, of course, on the other hand, we gain a great deal in terms of security by obtaining protection for our own staff in these 889 countries. It would be extremely foolish for this country to lower its security guard by sacrificing that protection.
The great value of the bilateral arrangements maintained by Clause 7 (1,a) is that they make it far more difficult for attempts at subversion to remain secret and thus become successful. This is so because no threat of legal action against non-diplomatic personnel covered by these arrangements can ever seem convincing while they exist. There is thus no reason for the person threatened to conceal the attempt to subvert him.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East referred to Clause 7 (1,b) and the special Customs franchise arrangements. I should like to tell him the justification, which is to be found in the fact that these arrangements constitute solemn undertakings which cannot be annulled by a unilateral act of Her Majesty's Government and without prior negotiations with the foreign States concerned, of which there are some nine. Moreover, their annulment would impose a considerable and continuing financial burden on Her Majesty's Government, who would have to compensate the affected staff for loss of the facilities secured to them by the agreements.
In moving the Amendment, my hon. and gallant Friend referred to Clause 7 as having been put into the Bill in another place. I should like to explain that Article 47 of the Convention, which is not one of the scheduled Articles provides:In the application of the provisions of the present Convention, the receiving State shall not discriminate as between States.The second paragraph of that Article, however—and I think that this meets the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea—expressly permits us to do what we propose doing under Clause 7 by providing that discrimination shall not be regarded as taking placewhere by custom or agreement States extend to each other more favourable treatment than is required by the provisions of the present Convention.This paragraph would, strictly, entitle us to enter into further agreements. When Clause 7 was inserted it was considered how we should deal with the matter. We have, however, thought it right only to preserve the existing position and to 890 restrict Clause 7 to agreements and arrangements in force at the coming into force of the Bill. We do not under Clause 7 leave ourselves power to make Orders in Council for further agreements.
A number of hon. Members have asked for the names of the countries concerned with which we have made arrangements covered by the Clause. They will be published as soon as possible. I think the House will appreciate that it would be wrong for us to do so until we have secured the consent of the countries themselves. This consent we are seeking, but we have not yet had replies from all of the countries.
It is important to realise, as I have already indicated, that there is no question of concluding further agreements. Clause 7 would not allow for any new agreements. I put it to the House that this protection is needed for our own missions in certain sensitive countries, that these are valuable arrangements which we should continue, that the fears about security expressed by certain hon. Members are unfounded, that this gives protection to our own missions and that we lose nothing in security for the reasons that I have given. For all these reasons, I ask the House not to accept this Amendment and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will be prepared to withdraw it.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Commander Courtney
I am afraid I must tell my hon. Friend that—in company, I think, with some of my hon. Friends—I remain remarkably unconvinced by the case he put forward for the signing of a blank cheque by this House of Commons. I contest the suggestion that greater protection will be given to our nationals in foreign countries by the provisions of Clause 7 and I still believe them to be superfluous. I have not had my objections in any way removed or satisfied by what my hon. Friend has said, but the Government brought in this Bill in the last days of a Parliament, three years after the signing by British representatives of the Convention which the Bill ratifies. It is necessary and vital that we should pass this Bill and ratify this Convention in this Session if the ordinary processes of international law are to be observed.
For that reason—and for that reason alone and totally unconvinced as I remain 891 about the Tightness of Clause 7—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I beg to move, that the Bill be recommitted in respect of Clause 2.
It will be within the recollection of the House that, in the closing stages of the debate on the first Amendment on the Paper in my name, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave an undertaking to look at the matter again so far as concerns the content and merit of that Amendment. This Bill originated in another place. Therefore, if we now pass from the consideration of it in this House to Third Reading, there will be no opportunity for my hon. Friend to carry out his undertaking to look at the matter again.
I do not want to obstruct the passage of the Bill, and I must take some blame for raising this point only at this stage. My excuse is that at the time of Second Reading and the Committee stage of the Bill I was overseas on a Commonwealth Parliamentary delegation. I apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend about that. There is still all next week to complete the Bill and for it to receive the Royal Assent before the House rises. It is my submission that the House should make quite sure when an undertaking has been given from the Front Bench that by procedure in this House the Minister is not prevented from carrying out his undertaking. I therefore move this Motion.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Question is, That the Bill be recommitted in respect of Clause 2. That would be to a Committee of the whole House.
§ Mr. Mathew
I must protest at my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) moving this Motion at this stage. He knows very well what the result would be should the House accept it.
I appreciate that he was unable to attend on the previous stages, but I put it to him that he might have had an opportunity to make representations about his anxieties on the particular definition point which was embodied in his Amendment. He could have made 892 those representations to me at any time during the last few weeks, but he has not done so. We had no knowledge of his anxieties until his Amendment appeared yesterday on the Notice Paper.
§ Mr. Graham Page
It was earlier than that. I cannot at the moment recollect when it was, but it has been on the Paper for a considerable time.
§ Mr. Mathew
I suggest that there has been ample opportunity for my hon. Friend to put this to me earlier. Of course I am willing to see if there may yet be a way to bring greater precision into the wording of the Bill. I gave the House reasons why we could not accept the Amendment as it stood, but it is possible to look at this matter. If it is possible to do anything, it can be done when the Bill is sent back to another place, but I think this Motion is most unreasonable at this late stage. My hon. Friend knows what the result would be. I ask the House to resist the Motion.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I am quite certain that the Minister meant it very sincerely when he said that he would reconsider this particular point. We all accept that from him, but I should be grateful if he would indicate—I think he would assist the House in making up its mind on this proposal—how he proposes, should he think on reconsideration that there should be some change made in the text of the Bill, to introduce it, at what stage, and how he would implement his undertaking.
§ Mr. Mathew
Of course there are procedural difficulties, but the case was put by, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) on the last Amendment that we are bound under an international Convention which a great many nations have already ratified. I indicated that there were the greatest difficulties in finding a formula. We would be internationally in default of the Convention. We shall look at the matter, but procedurally there are the greatest difficulties. I am afraid that for the reasons I have given I am convinced that the drafting difficulties are insuperable.
§ Sir F. Soskice
Would the hon. Gentleman please answer the simple question I put to him? Suppose that on consideration he thinks that there is 893 force in the argument which was advanced in support of the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), and suppose that on reconsideration he thinks a change should be made in the text of the Bill. Having given the undertaking which he has given, by what procedural process does he propose to move in this House or in the other House to introduce the Amendment which he may think is necessary? Will he please answer that simple question?
§ Mr. Mathew
What I undertook to do was to have a look at it. I fully accept the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). When the other Amendment was being considered this was looked at closely. As I have suggested all along, the difficulties are insuperable. The question of process would have to be considered carefully if we came to a conclusion—which I think unlikely—that there was a possibility of making a change.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
After consideration, surely all we need to do is to introduce a Diplomatic Privileges (Amendment) Bill?
§ Sir F. Soskice
May I have an answer to my question? Would the Minister be so good, when he has read the piece of paper he has in his hand, to allow the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Glyn) to have an answer to his question? Is the Minister now saying that if on consideration he thinks it necessary to amend the text of the present Bill, next week he will introduce a new Measure to amend this Bill? If not, will he please say how he had in mind to implement his undertaking supposing that on reflection he thinks some change is necessary?
§ Mr. Mathew
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that the only method of doing this would be by introducing an amending Bill. I am perfectly certain that there is no question of an amending Bill being introduced in this Session, but if it were possible to meet the point it would of course need an amending Bill in the next Session of Parliament. There is no doubt about this. I was asked to look at the matter again, but action on 894 it of course would involve legislation. which necessarily would be next Session.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State could go a little further. At the moment he is only committed to looking at the matter which has been raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). The Under-Secretary took another step and said that if amending legislation would be required—or rather, if it were found that amending legislation was required—that would be a matter for the next Parliament. So far as I understand the procedure in this House, it is not competent for one Parliament to pass on its sins of omission or commission to another Parliament. It cannot pledge the actions of another Parliament. Therefore, how is the Under-Secretary to convince the House that he intends to take any action at all? He cannot say that this will be a matter for another Parliament, it is outside the bounds of any power that he has.
It seems to me that the matter boils down to this. The hon. Member for Crosby has made a point which appears to have substance and the Under-Secretary is faced with the position that he, or the Government, have brought forward, in the dying moments of this Parliament, a Bill which, according to the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney), should have been brought forward months ago.
§ Mr. Rankin
All right. I did not want to be so extreme, at the deathbed of this Parliament, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman appears to want to be. I was generous in saying months. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says years. I will agree with him. The Government, in the dying moments of this Parliament, are bringing forward a Bill which, in the view of their own supporters, they should have brought forward years ago. Now the Under-Secretary is in a difficulty. He flings himself on the mercy of the House and asks that hon. Members accept something about which no one on either side of the House is convinced at all. The Under-Secretary is in trouble. I suggest that he must give the House a more enlightening answer about what he proposes to do than he has given so far.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I intervene in the interests of the House. I think it appalling that we have no senior Minister present—ah, the Secretary of State for Education and Science has just entered the Chamber. I was saying that our difficulty arises because there is no senior member of the Government present. The Leader of the House is not present, I do not know where he is. We are dealing with important Government business, but at any rate now we have the Secretary of State for Education and Science present.
The Under-Secretary of State's Minister is not present and there is this difficulty. In good faith the Under-Secretary has given an undertaking—I agree that it was given in good faith—and it may be resolved only on further advice. Presumably the Under-Secretary felt convinced by the arguments which he has heard, and I think this a matter which should be reconsidered, unless we have a statement from some responsible member of the Government. The Government have put themselves in this difficulty and they have an obligation to the House. The resolution of that difficulty lies here. If the Under-Secretary thought this ought to be reconsidered, he meant that it should be reconsidered by this Parliament and by this Government. If a senior member of the Government had been present—if the Secretary of State were present to speak—the matter could be resolved. But until we have such a resolution, I do not think that the Under-Secretary can discharge himself. He said, faithfully interpreting the discussion in the House, that this matter ought to be looked at again. It has to be looked at not by him but by the Government and so we should have someone to speak more authoritatively for the Government.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
Would the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) agree that this is a Bill which we desire to get on the Statute Book and that, surely, the answer is—on the assurance given by my hon. Friend—that we should proceed with the Bill; and if and when it is found that there are difficulties would not it be better in the interests of the House that a Diplomatic Privileges (Amendment) Bill should be introduced? I think, in fairness to my hon. Friend, that that is the undertaking he has given.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I think it would be wrong if the impression got about that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) was attempting to be awkward or to make things difficult for the Government. He has moved an Amendment which was discussed. My hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs gave an undertaking to consider this and to see what could be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby realises, as he said, the necessity for the Bill to be placed on the Statute Book. He realises that the only way in which both these things can happen is to adopt the course of action which has been suggested, to recommit the Measure in respect of Clause 2, provided that time can be found during next week. I should have thought that was not impossible and that it would let the House out of the difficulty.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State would give some consideration to accepting this proposal. It is the only way in which he can get himself out of the situation in which he has landed himself.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I must press my Motion, and I think I am entitled, as the mover of the Motion, to speak again without the leave of the House.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is making very heavy weather of this. There are all the days of next week in which this could be considered. The point at issue is a short one, and I doubt whether the Third Reading is likely to take any length of time.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said that there are all the days of next week. Saturday is a day of next week. Is he including Saturday?
I stand corrected. There is Monday to Friday, inclusive, of next week, and that seems plenty of time to get the final stages of this Bill dealt with. There is no question of obstructing the Bill or preventing it going through this Session.
The paramount point is that an undertaking was given by my hon. Friend to consider the point which I raised by way 897 of an Amendment. Not only did he give that undertaking in the original debate, but he has repeated it twice on his comments on this Motion. I ask him to consider this matter seriously. If a Minister gives an undertaking, and if by the procedure of the House he is prevented from doing anything about his undertaking, a very serious precedent will be set. I ask my hon. Friend to meet us on this occasion and to say that he will advise the House to accept this Motion and will see that the Bill is brought back during next week for some definite statement to be made about Clause 2. Then it could proceed to its final stages. There will be no delay in getting the Royal Assent. If my hon. Friend does not do so, a very serious precedent will be set.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I clearly remember the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) asking earlier for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to give the undertaking, which he did give, to reconsider the point raised in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). It may be for the benefit of the House if the right hon. and learned Gentleman told us what he had in mind. He must at that time have been aware of the procedural difficulty which faces the House and he may be able to help by telling us what he had in mind when he asked for that undertaking regarding how the undertaking could be given which was given by my hon. Friend.
§ Sir F. Soskice
With the permission of the House, perhaps I may speak again. A very obvious way of implementing the undertaking would be to advise the House to accept the Motion, which is now before it, that Clause 2 be recommitted. I should have thought there was no difficulty about that.
§ Mr. Speaker
I wish to obtain some elucidation from the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). Should I put the Question, to fulfil his intention, that the Bill be recommitted to a Standing Committee or to a Committee of the whole House?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Question is, That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in respect of Clause 2.
§ The House proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it.
§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathew
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
As the House will be aware from the earlier stages through which this Measure has passed, its principal object is to give effect in the United Kingdom to the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and to enable that Convention to be ratified.
There is only one general aspect of the Bill to which I want to refer. During its passage a good deal has been heard on the theme of security, and it has been suggested that in certain respects enactment of the Bill might be inimical to the national interest. The reverse is, in fact, the case, and the general effect of the Bill, and in particular of Clause 7, is to strengthen rather than to weaken security. In countries where attempts might be made to subvert the loyalty of Her Majesty's servants by intimidation, the comprehensive immunity preserved for them by that Clause would place them in a far better position to resist such threats than would otherwise be the case.
I recall that during the Second Reading debate my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) made some remarks suggesting a possible connection between the privileged use of diplomatic bags and the smuggling of prohibited goods, in particular drugs. I should like to make it clear that the evidence does not support the impression that a widespread illicit traffic is being carried on under the cover of diplomatic privilege. The experience of our own authorities lends no colour to the suggestion that foreign diplomatic representatives residing here or passing through this country—whether from Latin America or from any other part of the world—are in any way concerned with such a traffic.
There is one point which I think calls for mention, because the Bill sets out to give effect to those provisions of the Vienna Convention which regulate the levying of Customs duty on diplomats. 899 It concerns arrangements for relieving members of the Diplomatic Corps from Customs duty on their purchases of hydro-carbon oils. Although it is open to diplomats to import petrol and other oils duty free or to obtain them dutyfree from a refinery in this country, this is obviously not very practicable or convenient. Relief has therefore been given in the past by refund from the Customs and Excise revenues of the Customs duty included in the price of petrol and other oils purchased by diplomats from retail sources in this country.
It has been decided that it would be better in the future for these refunds to be borne as a charge on the Votes of the Foreign Office in relation to members of foreign diplomatic missions and of the Commonwealth Relations Office in relation to members of Commonwealth High Commissions. The total cost in a full year is likely to be in the region of £110,000, and Supplementary Estimates will be presented in due course for the amount expected to be required in 1964–65. I emphasise that no new concession is involved and no increased scale of expenditure. The new arrangement will simply involve the transfer to Departmental Votes of charges hitherto defrayed from Customs revenues.
The fact that the Bill has reached its concluding stages in the House without substantial Amendment shows, I believe, that the advantages of the United Kingdom being a party to a Convention which will form a common code of diplomatic practice for States are appreciated on all sides of the House and that there is a general welcome for this significant advance in the technique of diplomatic practice.
§ 12.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin
The Bill has a practical interest for me because I want to be assured that these diplomatic immunities which are conferred under the Bill will ensure the safety of our own people in other parts of the world.
In the exchange of opinion in the earlier stages, statements were made that under the cover of diplomatic privileges much other work went on. I notice that administrative and technical staff will lose immunity under the Bill from civil jurisdiction 900 with respect to acts performed outside the course of their duty. The specific acts which they might perform outside the course of their duties are not referred to, and one is left to guess what they might be. In the same way, persons in the domestic service of the mission will lose immunity from both civil and criminal jurisdiction with respect to acts performed outside the course of their duties—and, again, their duties are not strictly defined, and what they might do outside their normal duties is left to the imagination.
The Under-Secretary of State has assured us that we want to protect ourselves against subversive acts, and we all agree with that. But I want to feel that our own people are also protected in the execution of their duties when they are serving abroad. I am reminded of that fact because many years ago when on a delegation from the House to a certain part of Europe I was invited in a very roundabout way to meet a gentleman who was in the service of this country and not, I believe, under diplomatic immunity, in a particular part of northeastern Europe. I had a most interesting evening, which extended far into the morning hours. He was attached to our mission abroad as, shall I say, a subversive agent. He was chief of the espionage force at our command in that part of Europe. He led a most interesting and dangerous life.
I like to think that under the Bill that gentleman, or the person who has succeeded him in that part of the world, will be protected, too, or do these people have any protection whatsoever? I asked this officer what would happen if he were captured or fell victim to a bullet. He said that his existence would be immediately denied: no one would have any knowledge of him. When we talk about subversive action in this country, we must remember that subversive action goes on in other countries, too, and that the persons who are carrying it out are people who are associated, perhaps far removed but nevertheless associated, with our diplomatic missions abroad. We are doing exactly the work outside Britain which we condemn when we find that it is carried on against us inside Britain.
I wonder if the Under-Secretary can assure me that people who undertake these dangerous missions on our behalf are protected in any sort of way under 901 the Bill. That gentleman could take me through the streets of the chief town of that country and point to diplomatic agents, shall I call them, engaged in his type of work. He could point to them in almost every other street. He knew them all. They all knew him. I asked him what happens when one does not appear again. Nobody asks any questions.
The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) is smiling at that. Perhaps he could tell us even a little more of that side of diplomatic missions than I discovered 17 years ago when I was on a different type of mission from Parliament to a part of Europe which I shall not identify. We must remember that the phrase "diplomatic mission" has a very wide coverage indeed. I am merely asking the Under-Secretary to tell me when he replies how far these men, who are doing a recognised part of Government work abroad and for whom a Vote in the Estimates which amounts to £10 million is passed by Parliament from year to year, are covered. That sum may not have been voted this year; I do not know. Perhaps I should have observed it. Strange to say, it is a Vote about which very little is said in the House. It has increased by 50 per cent. over the last four years.
I leave it to the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East to aid me in reaching a conclusion on whether that shows greater activity abroad. At least it shows activity carried on by diplomatic missions with whose future the Bill is concerned. As we are concerned to ensure the safety of our missions, I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell me that those missions, about which we do not talk a great deal but which nevertheless are part and parcel of the work of Parliament, are equally safeguarded under the Bill.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Commander Courtney
I admire enormously the lively imagination in these many matters of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin). I am sorry to have shown that I was amused by some of his remarks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him more closely, except to say that if his surmise is correct and these intricate operations take place somewhere—I understood him to say in 902 north-east Europe—I only wish they were reflected a little better in the visible results.
§ Mr. Rankin
I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that what I said was no tale of imagination. I could name the gentleman I met. I shall do so to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, if he cares.
§ Commander Courtney
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I will now continue with my speech. The Bill is a welcome Bill in one great and overriding respect. It is a codification and an incorporation in the law of the country of an international Convention. I have been rather rude today about a great Department of State, but I must now say that I think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and his Department should be congratulated on the very close part they played and the very great influence they had on the negotiations three years ago at Vienna.
I think that the House should turn its attention rather more than it has done previously to the broader aspect of diplomacy as it has been brought out by the Convention and by the Bill—diplomacy as applied to modern conditions which go back, perhaps, 300 or 400 years to an age of faith when the world was divided into opposed ideologies. We cannot but think of the Bill and the diplomacy with which it deals except in terms of the cold war., which expression has not been mentioned during the course of the Bill, either in the House or in Standing Committee. Four years ago representatives of a certain party of 81 countries met in an Eastern European capital to declare against us, among others, war—ideological, economic and political war. But it was cold war. It was everything except armed conflict with those countries.
Today my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has referred to certain countries which have Governments ruled by the party which I am mentioning and which my hon. Friend has called politically sensitive. I like the expression "politically sensitive". It has a direct bearing on what I shall say later. My hon. Friend spoke of our diplomatic representatives in the capitals of those countries being subjected to malicious 903 persecution and subversion. In Committee my hon. Friend said that those countries—I am sure that he would have wished to include them in his generalisation—were not observing the rule of law as we know it.
Therefore, I contend that we should consider the Convention and the Bill as laying down rules for diplomatic practice where the spirit of such diplomatic practice does not in fact exist. On Second Reading my hon. Friend went back perhaps 300 years to the age of faith when he spoke of the Jacobite intrigues and the use of diplomatic bags in those days for Jacobite subversion in this country. As we have heard today, we have good reason to know that that goes on.
I contend that the fundamental objective of diplomacy, which is the furtherance and improvement of friendly relations with foreign countries, is not fostered by certain of the provisions in this Bill. It is, on the other hand, furthered by the Convention as a whole; that is, if everybody plays to the same rules and so long as we play cricket without remaining apparently oblivious to the fact that others are playing baseball. It is this difference in interpretation that we must take cognisance of when considering the Bill.
Diplomacy in its best sense is as Georges Clémenceau put it; it has become too important to be left only to diplomats. That is where this House comes in, in considering the proper application of these diplomatic rules to our relations with the politically sensitive countries, including those unnamed countries with which we have had special arrangements for the last nine years, arrangements which are being continued by Clause 7.
The Government have admitted implicitly that the Convention as it stands is insufficient to guard against the modern situation which arises in connection with misuse of diplomatic procedures. We have in the Bill Clause 3, for example, which makes special measures for retaliation against countries which operate against our diplomats. Then we have Clause 7, which we have already discussed, which perpetuates certain arrangements with certain countries which are among the political sensitive nations to which I 904 have referred. We have those two strong departures from the provisions of the Convention and we have, thereby, an admission that the normal system has failed and that, therefore, we nationally require an alteration of the normal system if we are to continue to safeguard our national interests.
It must be said, in connection with these politically sensitive countries, that the good faith on which fundamentally good diplomatic relations rest does not exist and, as we know to our cost during the past 15 years, the system brings with it national dangers of which we must take account. I cannot help feeling that the Department clings in some ways to a 19th century diplomatic structure, a structure of privilege and behaviour which went out with the Pax Britannica. Those conditions no longer exist, as we all know, and I cannot escape feeling in some way that the Department is trying to retain its own secret world of Walter Mitty. I would apply that to both the Foreign Office and to my hon. Friend. It seems to me that they would like to perpetuate that atmosphere and retain all those ancient privileges and vast establishments which went with orthodox diplomacy as it was known in the 19th century.
I must comment on the fact, when considering the politically sensitive countries, that there is one factor in diplomatic relations which disturbs me. It is the reluctance of the Foreign Office to give any information. I have managed to extract a minimum of information, which I have brought out in the debate. I am concerned with information which touches on diplomatic practice as we experience it in relation to the problem of national security. It is the business of this House fully to investigate this form of activity and I welcome this debate if only because it has brought out many important points and opinions in this sphere.
We have received information about several sad experiences in the last 15 years of dereliction of duty and treasonable activities by highly placed officials, and the Government can be hardly surprised that some of my hon. Friends and, I regret to say, rather few hon. Members opposite, are at this stage questioning certain of the provisions of the Bill. I must admit, in relation to Clause 7, which 905 we have already discussed, that I should like to be assured that we are not being blackmailed to our manifest disadvantage. Are we certain, for example, that it is right that we should pay the danegeld and give special immunities to the 240 cooks, chauffeurs and the rest in these foreign diplomatic missions in our country—missions of these politically sensitive countries—special amenities which would normally be given only to their ambassadors and diplomatic agents in terms of this international Convention?
There is evidence to show that we can often absolve the heads of foreign missions from the activities and abuses of diplomatic privilege which have occurred in this country. It has been shown that secret police organisations frequently operate within these missions but without the knowledge, and certainly not under the control of, the ambassadors themselves. The sooner this House realises the facts of life in this respect the better.
As I said earlier, I welcome the Bill as a whole, although I believe that it is full of holes. I have by no means received complete satisfaction about its provisions, particularly those contained in Clause 7. Nevertheless, I realise that the Goverment must have the Bill, but I should like to know why it has taken so long in coming forward, why it was necessary to amend it in another place by the incorporation of Clause 7 and why it seems to have been rushed through. Can it be that this hurrying process has something to do with the fact that 22 out of the 81 countries have already ratified the Convention, which thereby becomes international law? I believe that it has. Although full of holes, I welcome the Bill and have every intention of supporting its Third Reading.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
The debate has taken longer than was anticipated, so I will not delay hon. Members for long. It should be remembered that the Bill is concerned with diplomatic privilege and conduct and not with the question of sabotage and national security. The whole House will agree with the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney). I might disagree with him on one point; that perhaps his remarks are not relevant to the contents of the Bill.
906 There are many ways in which our diplomats are placed in situations of extreme difficulty, and we are all aware of things like secret microphones, agents in the form of people who clean or empty the paper baskets and heaven knows what! We are today concerned with extending this privilege to a very small community. I would say that without the privileges given under the Bill no mission could operate successfully, but there are always abuses and I have no doubt that the right course to take in these cases is for my right hon. Friend to use the method of persona non grata. I appreciate that while this may be an effective weapon against abuse it is not an easy one to use because it is reciprocal on both sides, often without there being justification when used against us. Nevertheless, it is about the most effective method at my right hon. Friend's disposal.
The whole question of our relationships with other countries has, to some extent, altered over the years. The 19th century structure of the Diplomatic Corps has gone and today we have other forces and interests at work, in particular commercial interests which inevitably bring together the communities of various countries. Although commercial activities are not provided for in the Bill, I hope that the Government will draw attention to the help that can be given by our missions abroad to our commercial interests. Some countries across the Atlantic are better than we are at this and this is a practical suggestion to come out of our discussion of the Bill. I hope that our genuinely honest commercial activities in overseas countries where we have missions will be assisted by those missions so that the increase of our trade with those countries will become a part of our mission's activities.
I welcome this Bill because it allows us after many years to ratify the Vienna Convention. Many of our diplomats throughout the world work day in and day out in the service of the country in conditions that can only be described as difficulty. They may have very few friends, with the exception of other embassy people, and if there is anything we can do to bring safety and comfort to them we should do it. I hope that this Bill may in some way help them, 907 and that the message may go from this House that we appreciate the work these people are doing daily and realise that, throughout the years, that work has borne considerable fruits.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Sir F. Soskice
As many hon. Members have said, this Measure is not "just one of those Bills." It is a very important Bill, and I hope that it will for many years set at rest a great many controversies that arise over the limits of diplomatic privilege. We have heard many distinguished speeches in our proceedings, and I think that the whole House would recognise the importance of the contribution of the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney). I confess that his concluding judgment left me in a state of slight uncertainty because he said that he welcomed the Bill as a whole but that it was full of holes. I think he meant that in the first case the word should be spelt w-h-o-l-e. If that was his intention, I would certainly agree with him. This morning we had a minor contretemps, a slight ruffling of the waters and a rocking of the boat, but we were glad to survive that.
I would only add a word of thanks to the Minister in charge of the Bill for his great courtesy, and for the great trouble he took throughout our debates in handling what was, after all, a particularly technical legal Measure. I do not think that anybody on either side of the House would complain of any lack of help or of courtesy on his part. He addressed himself to the task very manfully, and on both sides we are grateful to him. We naturally harried him a little—after all, Ministers are for that—but I hope that he will not take it too unkindly. He certainly came up smiling. We should offer him our congratulations, and express our gratitude to him for his conduct of the Bill throughout our deliberations.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathew
With the leave of the House, I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) for his most kind words. I am grateful to him personally for his great assistance throughout our proceedings on this Measure, and also for his courtesy—especially when harrying, if I may say so.
908 We are now at the last stage of this very important Bill, and I would say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) that he should have remembered, when he strayed on a number of occasions, if I may say so with respect, into a slightly James Bondian world, holding up terrors and dangers to national security, that this is a Bill to codify this very important branch of international law, and deals with the conduct of diplomats. When he accuses me of being out of date and living in the euphoria of the Pax Britannica of the last century, I can assure him that the very fact that we have been able to negotiate this Convention on an international basis in Vienna shows that we are in the spirit of the new world, and trying to establish the basis on which diplomacy can adapt itself to very rapidly changing conditions.
I can assure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) that our very first concern is always for the safety and security of our own missions overseas. That indeed, is the very reason for the inclusion of Clause 7. The hon. Gentleman also referred to unspecified people—also, I think, of a somewhat James Bondian world. I would only remind him that this Bill deals with diplomats and the privileges and immunities of diplomats—
§ Mr. Rankin
If I understand the Bill correctly, it also takes into account those who are associated with the diplomatic missions, with the exception of two classes.
§ Mr. Mathew
I would commend the Bill to the hon. Gentleman, and say that it clearly defines the various classes of diplomats; and that those are the people with whom we are concerned today. In order to answer the hon. Gentleman's question I would have to ask further questions as to whom exactly he was referring. I got a general impression of a James Bondian world, while we are dealing with diplomats and the privileges and immunities of diplomats.
The Government commend the Bill to the House with confidence. For the first time in this country's diplomatic history it will be possible to point to the content of this Measure as embodying a complete guide to those concerned with diplomatic privileges 909 and immunities. In the Bill, and nowhere else, will be found the rules and principles to be observed in diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and other states. As the Vienna Convention looks like being adopted by the majority of countries as the basis of their practice there now is, for the first time in international diplomatic usage, a prospect that all States will, as it were, be speaking the same language in matters of diplomatic procedure. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with an Amendment.