HC Deb 30 July 1965 vol 717 cc1011-9

4.31 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

I beg to move, That the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th June, be approved. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I think that it would be convenient if I were to deal at the same time with the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) Order, 1965, because these two draft Orders are to a large extent complementary.

Mr. Speaker

If the House so pleases.

Miss Bacon

Last year Parliament passed the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations Act, 1964. The purpose of that Act was to enable the United Kingdom to carry out its obligations as a member of N.A.T.O. in respect of international headquarters and defence organisations having units in this country, by conferring on them certain capacities, immunities and privileges.

The International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) Order, 1965, brings the 1964 Act into operation by designating the bodies to which the Act is to apply. In the Order we designate three bodies as supreme headquarters—the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe; the Headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic; and the Headquarters of the Allied Commander in Chief Channel—three as headquarters—the Headquarters of the Commander of the Allied Maritime Air Force; the Headquarters of the Commander in Chief of the Eastern Atlantic Area; and the Headquarters of the Commander of the Maritime Air Eastern Atlantic Area—and one—the Channel Committee—as a defence organisation.

I distinguish between the different types of organisation because there is a corresponding distinction in the privileges which this Order confers upon them.

By having passed the 1964 Act and approving any Orders necessary to implement it, Parliament is enabling this country to honour its obligations as a signatory of the 1952 Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters set up pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty, copies of which have been placed in the House. That Protocol requires that the official archives of all headquarters should be inviolable but that supreme headquarters only should be given juridical personality and these distinctions are accordingly made in the Designation and Privileges Order.

In granting immunities of this kind, we are not departing from precedent. They are similar to those which may already be conferred on international headquarters organisations generally by Orders made under the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950.

So much for the Designation and Privileges Order, but we have another obligation under the 1952 Protocol and that is to confer upon headquarters and defence organisations, as upon visiting forces, such privileges and immunities as are needed to achieve their efficient organisation and operation. This is the purpose of the draft Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) Order.

This draft Order extends therefore to the designated headquarters and the Channel Committee the exemptions, immunities and privileges enjoyed by visiting forces in this country under the Visiting Forces Act, 1952. These are essentially the same immunities and privileges as are enjoyed by our own forces, which we undertook to grant in signing the 1951 Status of Forces Agreement.

The additional beneficiaries are very few—only about 40. These immunities and privileges have previously been set out in the Visiting Forces (Application of Law) Orders of 1954 and 1956 which we have, in this Order, taken the opportunity to consolidate and bring up to date by including the necessary references to more recent Statutes, such as the Road Traffic Act, 1960. The Order also consolidates the Visiting Forces (Application of Law) Order, 1961, which added the Federal Republic of Germany to the countries to whose forces the Orders apply.

It is inevitable that an Order of this kind should be long and complicated. This is because it is necessary to set out individually all the departures from the normal requirements of the Statute law of which the home forces might take advantage, however remote or rare a contingency such a departure might be. The position, therefore, is that the visiting forces and the headquarters and defence organisations mentioned in Article 3 of the draft Order will be entitled to take advantage of the benefits accorded under the remaining Articles and Schedules.

The visiting forces concerned are those of the other independent countries of the Commonwealth and foreign countries which are members of N.A.T.O., which either maintain troops in this country or send contingents or detachments for training and joint exercises. I do not propose to deal exhaustively with the remainder of the draft Order, particularly since it so largely reproduces provisions which Parliament has already approved, in their application to visiting forces under earlier Orders. As I have already explained to the House, the privileges and immunities conferred upon visiting forces and headquarters by the draft Order are those which are necessary for their efficient organisation and operation.

As for visiting forces, the Status of Forces Agreement ensures that our forces in the countries to which the draft Order applies receive the main privileges and immunities conferred by the Order, since these are a matter of obligation under the Agreement. The other immunities and privileges conferred by the Order are matters of international courtesy and arrangement and are similar to those enjoyed by our own forces abroad.

As regards international headquarters, those British personnel who are on the staff of similar headquarters abroad already receive the same privileges and immunities as the draft Order confers on Servicemen and civilians from other countries who are serving at such headquarters in the United Kingdom.

The two draft Orders which we are considering today are essential if we are to continue to meet our obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty and to play our full part as members of the Alliance. I am sure that the House will agree that we should do everything to enable the headquarters of forces of the Alliance to operate efficiently in this country.

It will be noted that Article 1 of the Designation and Privileges Order, and Article 1(2) of the Application of Law Order provide for the Orders to come into operation at the expiry of 30 days beginning with the day on which they are made. The intention is that, if Parliament approves the Orders, the United Kingdom should ratify the 1952 Protocol on the day on which the Orders are made by Her Majesty in Council and that ratification will then take effect on the same day as the Orders come into operation.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

There is an understandable and natural reluctance on the part of the general public to see any extension of special immunities and privileges with reference to the ordinary law of this country. According to an Answer given in April this year, there are at present 6,920 inhabitants who are entitled to some form of diplomatic immunity. Every time a claim for immunity is put forward after some sort of traffic accident or parking offence, there is, naturally, a buzz of disapproval among the public as a whole.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the Committee on Statutory Instruments questioned Article 3(2) of the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) Order, since it appears that that sub-paragraph would extend paragraph (1) of the Schedule to the main Act. There was some question, therefore, which was not finally pursued, as to whether this draft Order was ultra vires in extending certain immunities to those who were not otherwise entitled to them.

The Application of Law Order is very wide ranging. It refers to the Gun Barrel Proof Act, 1868, the Cheap Trains Act, 1883, the Ferries (Acquisition by Local Authorities) Act, 1919, the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1885, and the Infectious Diseases (Notification) Act, 1889. I salute the erudition which has gone into the framing of this part of the Order, and I raise only two points of detail on it.

In Article 3(3) there is a reference to the forces of Tanganyika and of Zanzibar. For many months now, the forces of Tanganyika and Zanzibar have been merged as the forces of Tanzania. I presume that a correction will be made at some point. Second, I notice that there is no reference to Iceland among the N.A.T.O. countries. Iceland does not have an regular forces in the formal sense, but I understand that it would be possible for citizens of Iceland to serve in what one might call a quasi-military rôle at a headquarters. Would such a person receive under this Order the immunities and privileges which would be given to the nationals of other countries?

Although there must be some reservations about Article 3(2), we certainly would not press our objections, for two reasons. First, it seems desirable that we should seek to attract international headquarters to these shores rather than repel them. We benefit directly in terms of the money that the foreign Servicemen and civilians bring to this country. Also, we may benefit indirectly, because it is obviously easier to press one's national views on the members of a headquarters if the headquarters is in one's own country.

Secondly, I am very conscious of the point that the hon. Lady made, that in these matters we benefit from reciprocal arrangements. Here, we are a net exporter rather than a net importer, because we have far more Service men in countries abroad—the countries listed in Article 3(3)—than the other countries have serving here, and at the same time we have far more officers and men serving in international headquarters overseas than one would find in this country.

Therefore, it seems to me that it would be wrong to push too violently our opposition to the idea of extending in any way the application of privileges and amenities which we are seeking in our turn for our own Forces overseas.

4.42 p.m.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Eton and Slough)

I want to expand one point that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) was making about the desirability of encouraging international organisations to come to this country. Anyone reading the draft Orders might suppose that there were a very large number of international organisations already here. It is an astonishing fact that, with the exception of certain very minor headquarters, there are only two international organisations which have their headquarters here—Western European Union and the International Maritime Commission. While both are important organisations, neither can be regarded as very large in terms of the number of men serving in it or its standing in the world. In this respect the United Kingdom is way down the league compared with France, Italy or Belgium.

As my hon. Friend said, the presence of these international headquarters brings us not only status but a very tangible return in foreign currency. I wonder whether hon. Members who resent so very much, and so very vocally at times, the presence of these organisations stop to consider the extent to which their presence facilitates our export drive. Here are ready-made exports. We do not have to do anything. We welcome the people here, and they spend their money, and sometimes they do so very lavishly.

If we are to have the benefits of having a number of international organisations here, we must change our attitude a little. It is not as though London had such tremendous natural advantages to offer. We have not such a wonderful climate to offer. We have not in London—this is a great disgrace—such a thing as an international conference centre to offer, with the solitary inadequate exception of Church House.

Delegates who come here for international conferences face the difficulties familiar to us all of getting a drink when they have finished a long and exhausting session and finding something to do on Sunday. In addition, they run into the attitude, unfortunately prevalent in this country, that it is wrong for foreigners to receive any kind of privilege. It is an attitude which finds ready support on both sides of this House whenever the question comes up.

I do not want to weary the House but I would like to refer to a case with which I was concerned when at the Foreign Office. It was a very complicated matter concerning the rates paid by the Secretary-General of the Western European Union. As the United Kingdom signed the Western European Union Status Agreement, the point is relevant to our debate because it connects with the N.A.T.O. Status Agreement.

To put the W.E.U. Agreement into effect here the Government brought in an Order in Council. As a result of a good deal of back-bench pressure from both sides, the then Attorney-General conceded what he regarded as a trivial point concerning the payment of rates by the Secretary-General of W.E.U. He agreed to remove the relief on rates from the Order in Council.

I was saddled with this problem, as a civil servant, for several years in trying to sort it out because it was a complete contradiction between an international undertaking entered into by the Government of the day and the Government's power to act by virtue of the Order in Council. I am glad to say that the story had a happy ending. The hon. Lady the Minister of State need not look worried. I understand that it has now been sorted out if not in principle at least to the financial satisfaction of the Secretary-General.

I hope that this Order has been granted with that rather grim lesson in mind. On this occasion, no dire pressure has been brought on the hon. Lady to remove any concession which the Order contains for visiting forces. There is a lesson to be learned for all of us. If we in this House press too hard, for limiting the privileges which diplomats, officials and serving soldiers from abroad enjoy in this country, we shall both place the Government of the day in considerable difficulty in fulfilling obligations they have entered into and will greatly further diminish the attractiveness of London as a centre for organisations of this sort—and that would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

4.54 p.m.

Miss Bacon

Perhaps I can answer one or two specific points raised. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer) went a little wide of the Order, but at the Home Office one gets used to dealing with many things which one thinks are not the responsibility of the Home Office. The hon. Gentleman went a little beyond our responsibility but I understand his very great interest in these matters.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) asked about the reference to Tanganyika and Zanzibar. I am informed that this is quite in order. It is not a mistake because they are referred to in this way in the Visiting Forces Act and are still by law regarded as two countries for this purpose. Iceland is not included because, although it is in N.A.T.O., it has not ratified the original Agreement and these are reciprocal arrangements. Since Iceland did not ratify the original Agreement, it does not come under this Order at all.

The hon. Member for Beckenham raised a substantial issue when he questioned whether the Order was ultra vires in that Article 3(2) went rather further than was intended. The point was taken when the draft Order was before the Special Orders Committee of the House of Lords and the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Statutory Instruments. It is considered that this is not the case. The word "member" of a headquarters is given by Article 3(2) of the draft Order a wider meaning than that assigned to it by the parent Act, the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations Act, 1964. I am informed that it is quite in order and it is to make provision whereby a citizen of this country can take the place of a national of another country in the headquarters referred to in the Order. I am assured that to that extent it is not ultra vires.

Mr. Goodhart

I agree with the hon. Lady that the point was not pressed, but there was by no means unanimous agreement within the Committee that her view was correct.

Miss Bacon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting that point. While it may not have been the unanimous view, it was the view and it would clearly be unreasonable for these uses to become unlawful because a foreign member of a headquarters was replaced by a United Kingdom one. That would be unreasonable and, as the Order stands, provision is made for that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th June, be approved.

Resolved, That the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th June, be approved.—[Miss Bacon.]