§ 9.59 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. William Whitlock)
I beg to move,That the International Wheat Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1968, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th October, be approved.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have suggested to the two Front Benches that we might take, with this Order, the two similar Orders standing on the Order Paper, unless there is objection from the House. I will put each of the three Orders separately for Division if necessary.
§ Mr. Whitlock
I am glad that it falls to me to ask for the approval of the House for the first Orders to be laid before it under the new International organisations Act. When the Act was debated in a Second Reading Committee on 19th June it was commended by hon. Members on both sides, and Her Majesty's Government were particularly pleased by the remarks made by hon. Members about the welcome due to international organisations establishing themselves in this country.
All three organisations covered by these draft Orders maintain substantial establishments in this country. The Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation—better known to us all as I.M.C.O.—is the only specialised agency of the United Nations which has its headquarters in the United Kingdom. The Commission of the European Communities maintains a permanent delegation in this country which corresponds to our own delegation in Brussels to the European Communities. This delegation is of very great importance in the context of our long-term relations with the European Communities.
The International Wheat Council—the longest established of the five international commodity organisations whose 159 work in regulating international commodity trade is of the greatest importance—is one of four which have set up their headquarters in the United Kingdom. These three Orders will enable us to act as more suitably generous hosts to the organisations concerned and I hope that they will be welcomed for that reason.
My hon. Friend the then Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in moving the Second Reading of the Act, explained that Her Majesty's Government proposed to lay before Parliament draft Orders under the Act relating to the status in the United Kingdom of I.M.C.O. and the Commission of the European Communities. Having in mind the attention which is always paid by the House to questions of giving privileges, I will repeat briefly the reasons he gave why these Orders are necessary.
The draft Order relating to I.M.C.O. replaces and brings up to date the I.M.C.O. (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1959, and re-enacts most of the provisions of that Order. The most important new feature is the use of the power given by Section 2 of the International Organisations Act, 1968, to improve the; privileges of senior officers of specialised agencies of the United Nations having headquarters in the United Kingdom. Under earlier legislation, we had no power to reflect in matters of privileges and immunities, distinctions of responsibility between the various grades of staff within a specialised agency. There was provision for one scale of treatment for the High Officers—in practice two or three in number—at the top of the staff structure, and for only one other scale, which had to cover all the rest of the staff without distinction. This scale accorded less in the way of privileges and immunities than is given to the clerical and technical staff in a diplomatic mission.
The proposals under the rubric, "Senior Officers", in the draft Order, recognise the responsibilities of those officials whose rank is equivalent to that of a diplomatic agent by according them the same qualified exemption as is given to diplomatic agents in respect of the taxation of income or capital gains arising overseas; and the same exemption in respect of rates and the same customs 160 privileges as are given to diplomatic agents.
The broad effect of these proposals is to bring the United Kingdom practice in respect of I.M.C.O.'s senior officers into line with the practice of other States which are hosts to Specialised Agencies of the United Nations, for example, Switzerland, France, Italy and Canada. The making of the Order in the terms of the draft would enable Her Majesty's Government to sign the Headquarters Agreement which has been negotiated with I.M.C.O. and which was mentioned during the Second Reading debate on the International Organisations Bill. A draft of the Agreement was presented to Parliament on 15th October by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary (Cmnd. 3775).
The conclusion of headquarters agreements is an established practice in other countries which are hosts to international organisations, but this is the first agreement of this kind to be negotiated by the United Kingdom. Its terms are based broadly on other headquarters agreements between other specialised agencies and their host states. I.M.C.O. has been our welcome guest for nine years, and this Agreement will enable us to treat it in the way we believe is appropriate to the importance of the work which it performs.
The provision for the Order relating to the Commission of the European Communities is in Section 3 of the International Organisations Act. This Section and the draft Order under it replace and bring up to date the European Coal and Steel Community Act, 1955. This is necessary in the first place because the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community was merged last year in a new Commission of the European Communities.
The Commission of the European Communities is the joint executive organ of the European Economic Community, the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Coal and Steel Community. The delegation of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community remained in London to represent the new Commission, and the draft Order reflects its new status.
In this Order also, Her Majesty's Government are proposing that senior officers 161 should be accorded privileges comparable with those of diplomatic agents, because their duties and responsibilities warrant this. By courtesy of the Belgian Government, members of the United Kingdom Delegation to the European Communities enjoy in Brussels the benefits of diplomatic treatment, and we should give some measure of reciprocity to the Commission's representatives here. The privileges proposed are almost identical to those which it is proposed to confer on senior officers of I.M.C.O.
I should emphasise that under neither of the two Orders I have described will any person connected with I.M.C.O. or the Commission enjoy any increase in immunity from jurisdiction.
Although it is common ground that legislation with retroactive effect should be avoided so far as may be possible, it was necessary—and both Houses of Parliament agreed—to make provision in Section 3 of the International Organisations Act, 1968, for preserving in continuing effect the status of the delegation in the United Kingdom. In accordance with this Section, it is proposed to bring the draft Order into effect on 6th July, 1967, the date on which the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community was merged in the new Commission of the European Communities.
The draft Order relating to the International Wheat Council falls under the powers of Section 1 of the International Organisations Act, 1968, and is designed to enable Her Majesty's Government to conclude a Headquarters Agreement with the Council.
Four of the five international commodity organisations now in existence, those for wheat, sugar, coffee and tin, have their headquarters in London. The United Kingdom derives political and financial benefit from their presence here. Their presence reinforces London's position as the centre of the world commodity trade and favourably influences our balance of payments by the expenditures of the organisations themselves and the many overseas visitors who come to them on business. The importance of the work done by these organisations in regulating international commodity trade and assuring stable markets was emphasised by the United Nations Conference 162 on Trade and Development. Until now these bodies have not received privileges and immunities commensurate with their functions and importance.
The Headquarters Agreement with the Wheat Council, laid in draft form before Parliament on 24th October, Cmnd. 3783, is intended to give effect to the recommendation of the conference which last year drew up a new International Grains Arrangement that privileges and immunities on a scale which is still moderate, but is more generous than that previously given, should be accorded to the Council and to its offshoot, the Food Aid Committee, by the host Government.
The terms of this Order, which will enable the United Kingdom to sign the Headquarters Agreement, are based on those of the European Space Research Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1965, which was commended by the House three years ago, and which we have subsequently tried to promote as a model in international negotiations on this subject.
I am confident that the House, having recognised the International Organisations Bill as consistent with the policy of all sides of the House, will find no difficulty in approving these first proposals for putting three sections of the new Act to good use.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)
I shall not detain the House for more than a very few minutes, because we on this side are broadly in sympathy with the aims behind the Orders. In fact, we agree that it is greatly to the advantage of this country to act as hosts to international organisations.
Some caution is necessary, however, because of the potential increase in the numbers of those who are being granted privileges, and the difficulty of ensuring reciprocity. We want to be sure that these international organisations will not abuse the privileges granted to them, because there is, understandably, general and widespread concern in the country at present at the recent gross abuse of diplomatic privileges by one of the members of the rather inflated staff of the Soviet Embassy in London. This concern is rightly shared by many hon. Members.
163 There are one or two questions that I should like to ask the Minister. First of all, are there any other organisations with offices in the United Kingdom which may become the subject of Orders? Secondly, in what way do the privileges now being accorded differ from those proposed in the Order, and in what way do the proposed privileges differ from diplomatic privilege accorded to national missions?
It is understandable that reciprocity such as it is possible to control in the case of diplomatic privilege is not really practicable, but have British members in offices of international organisations in other countries any complaints about the privileges accorded to them?
It would be interesting to know how many people will be affected by these Orders.
Having asked those questions, I repeat that we welcome the Orders and, indeed, would like to know whether the Government are taking any steps to attract other international organisations to the United Kingdom. One small United Nations organisation seems rather meagre at present. We agree with the principle of the Orders, and with the need for them, although we consider that as far as possible there must be compensating advantages, and that we should not widen the field of immunities unless it is clearly in the country's interest to do so.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Whitlock
I am grateful for the manner in which the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) welcomed the Orders. I assure him that it is very unlikely that any of the people who will gain these additional privileges and immunities will indulge in the gross abuse which he described in respect of one embassy in London.
There is reciprocity towards our people in other countries. In the main, our people, particularly those in our delegation in Brussels, have been treated rather more generously by other countries than we have tended to treat people of international delegations who are here until the passage of the International Organisations Act, 1968. It is our policy to try to attract the headquarters of other international organisations to London, 164 and in due course other Orders will come before the House for that purpose.
The hon. Gentleman asked how many people covered by these Orders are entitled to immunities and privileges by virtue of their connection with the organisations mentioned. In the case of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, there are three high officers and 34 other officers concerned; in the case of the International Wheat Council, one high officer and 17 other officers; and in the case of the delegation of the Commission of the European Communities, one high officer and nine other officers.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to be puzzled about the explanatory note on the Commission of the European Communities. As I explained, the provision for the Order relating to the Commission is in Section 3 of the International Organisations Act. This Section and the draft Order under it replace and bring up to date the European Coal and Steel Community Act, 1955, and enable us to be more generous to the Commission's representatives here.
If the hon. Gentleman is worried about why it is necessary to have an overlap between the taking of effect of the Order relating to the Commission from 7th July, 1968, and the repeal of the European Coal and Steel Community Act, 1955, there is a doubt as to the extent to which the 1955 Act was effective after the fusion of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community and the Commission of the European Communities on 7th July, 1967. For that reason, the Order is in accordance with the express provision of Section 3(4) of the 1968 Act made effective from that date. On the other hand, it was necessary to keep the 1955 Act in force until the Order was made. In the circumstances, it was thought that no harm was done.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that explanation.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the International Wheat Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1968, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th October, be approved.
§ Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1968 [draft laid before the House 30th October], approved.—[Mr. Whitlock.]
§ Commission of the European Communities (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1968 [draft laid before the House 31st October],approved.—[Mr. Whitlock.]