HC Deb 08 May 1969 vol 783 cc809-36

10.37 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. William Whitlock)

I beg to move, That the International Sugar Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th April, be approved. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, I think that it may be convenient to discuss at the same time the other Motion, That the International Coffee Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th April, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Is it the wish of the House that the two Orders be taken together?

Hon. Members


Mr. Whitlock

These two Orders, which are the subject of the Motions, which you are allowing us to take together, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and which I am glad to commend to the House, have been approved in another place. They are very similar in both background and terms to the International Wheat Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order which was approved by the House last November. They are also made under the powers of Section 1 of the International Organisations Act, 1968, a measure which was welcomed by Parliament as bringing our legislation up to date, to meet the growing importance of international organisations in world affairs.

The International Coffee Organisation and the International Sugar Organisation are two more of the four commodity organisations based in London to which we are acting as hosts. In order to regulate our relations with these Organisations, we have drawn up, as is customary, Agreements about their status in the United Kingdom. These draft Headquarters Agreements were laid before Parliament in February, Cmnd. 3915 and Cmnd. 3926. The Orders will make it possible for Her Majesty's Government to sign and give effect to these two Agreements. This country is a member of both Organisations, whose work is of the greatest importance for the economies of developing countries which produce coffee and sugar. The conferences which recently drew up world-wide agreements about production and trade in coffee and sugar agreed, as a result of a United Kingdom proposal, that the privileges and immunities set out in the Agreements and in these Orders were suited to the needs of the host State as well as those of the Organisations.

The precedent on which the two Orders now before the House are based—the European Space Research Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order—was originally approved by Parliament in 1965, and was followed last year in the case of the International Wheat Council Order which I have already mentioned. A feature which accords with views from time to time expressed by hon. Members is the limitation on the immunity from suit which has the effect that the two Organisations, and all the members of their staffs except the head of each, will have no immunity from the civil or criminal jurisdiction of our courts in matters arising from motoring offences and accidents. Another limitation makes it possible to sue the Organisations to enforce an arbitral award made under compulsory provisions in the Agreements. Personal privileges given to staff and representatives are limited, and do not extend to families in any case. Tax exemption is conditional on payment of a tax to the Organisations themselves.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

May I ask a question—

Mr. Whitlock

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make his speech during the debate, and I can reply at the end.

As the two Orders—

Mr. Griffiths


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the Minister does not give way, the hon. Member must resume his seat.

Mr. Griffiths

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate your Ruling, and I shall abide by it at once, but the House is surely not in a desperate rush, and it is unusual for the Minister to be so discourteous.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order. If the Minister does not give way, the hon. Member must resume his seat.

Mr. Whitlock

As the two Orders follow so closely the precedent of the Wheat Order, there is probably no need for me to take up any more time in explaining their purpose and effect. They are designed to improve the treatment in this country of the International Coffee Organisation and the International Sugar Organisation within the accepted principles of United Kingdom policy on immunities and privileges, and I believe that the House will have no difficulty in approving them.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I thank the Minister for the brief explanation that he has given of the two Orders before the House, but for reasons which I hope to show I fear that the hon. Gentleman cannot expect us to give our approval without first probing a little deeper.

These are the first two Orders of their kind that I have had to scrutinise in my present capacity, but I have been in the House for long enough to know that Parliament does not care very much about granting an ever-widening circle of foreign representatives immunities and privileges denied to our own people.

It may be that in this day and age one must accept the principle of granting such immunities and privileges to the staffs of highly reputable international organisations. The arrangement is, after all, reciprocal with other countries, and our nationals gain some benefit from it. That is why general approval was given to the International Organisations Act, 1968, under which these Orders are made. In fact, the principle was generally accepted even before the passing of that Act which merely brought up to date the previous legislation which was technically defective and of a somewhat haphazard character.

It is obviously desirable that we should welcome international organisations here. It is sensible that we should encourage them to establish their headquarters in Britain rather than elsewhere. In any event sugar and coffee go together particularly well; they certainly suit my taste. Not only has Britain played a notable rôle in promoting sound international commodity agreements—this is one thing which both sides of the House strongly support—but we are the centre of the Commonwealth. Many Commonwealth countries with which we are linked are important producers of sugar and coffee. All that I readily acknowledge.

There are, however, certain details in the Orders which require clarification. How many people are involved? I should have thought that that would have been an obvious figure for the Under-Secretary to have given the House. He must know that Parliament has long been jealous about extending these privileges and is entitled to know how many persons enjoy them. When the Orders were under scrutiny is another place my noble Friend, Lord Bessborough, put his finger on an inconsistency in their provisions which was never satisfactorily explained. One would have thought that under all the Orders made under the 1968 Act, which was supposed to bring everything into ship-shape order, identical immunities and privileges would be granted. This is not so. My noble Friend discovered that these two latest Orders differ from, for example, the International Wheat Council Order in one important respect, namely, that they accord exemption from social security obligations to all foreign staff. Why should this be? It has long been the policy of successive Governments to afford comprehensive social security and National Health cover to all our citizens in return for contributions. It has long been the proud aim of successive Governments eventually to encourage other countries to do the same so that there would be complete reciprocity. A Yugoslav visiting Britain and falling ill can enjoy free treatment on the National Health Service here because a Briton visiting Yugoslavia can enjoy free treatment there.

The reply given to my noble Friend on this point, however, was that the Wheat Council Order affected fewer foreign staff and they were perfectly happy with the arrangement. On the other hand, the Government spokesman claimed that the staff of the Coffee and Sugar Organisations are largely foreigners who are unhappy about coming under our social security arrangements. Why should there be this difference in treatment? How do the Government know that the staff of the Sugar and Coffee Organisations want different arrangements? Was every member of the staff canvassed? What question was asked? Who asked the question? What right had the Government, anyway, to ask it?

Further, even if this inquiry was conducted and the replies received were 100 per cent. satisfactory in each case, how do the Government know that future members of the staff of these Organisations would want the same rights? The Government's reply in another place was extraordinary. It revealed a slipshod and haphazard approach which is becoming all too characteristic of the Government in almost every field.

Parts IV and V of each of the Orders—I am agreeable to taking them together because they are virtually identical—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—no doubt my hon. Friends will seek to comment upon the differences between the Orders. I am talking now about features which are common to the two Orders. Parts IV and V would appear to provide different rules for high officers and experts than for the rest.

What do these phrases mean? I suppose that one could identify a high officer as being somebody higher than somebody else lower down. But "experts," whoever they may be, are simply defined as persons … other than officers of the Organisation.… What is an expert? Somebody suggested to me the other day that an expert is a person who is not more right than anybody else but is able to give more sophisticated reasons for being wrong. Or perhaps we could define an expert as one who knows more and more about less and less. Considering recent exhibitions from the Government Front Bench, certain right hon. Gentlemen opposite might qualify accordingly.

Exactly what is meant by "experts" in this connection? Who are these people to whom we are extending these privileges and immunities? Are they, as distinct from officers of the Organisation, people who hop in and hop out of the United Kingdom at the Organisation's will? If so, how often does this occur? How many of them are there? And what are the implications?

I protest against sloppy draftsmanship of this kind. As I have said on many occasions, the Government must understand that Parliament will not put up with badly drafted legislation. [Interruption.]

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

On a point of order. Are you aware of the difficulty that we are experiencing in trying to listen to the interesting argument being adduced by the hon. Gentleman because he appears to be coming under attack from his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke)? Would you kindly tell that hon. Gentleman to shut up?

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Further to that point of order. My hon. Friend pointed out that Parliament would not tolerate sloppy draftsmanship and I commented that, in present circumstances, we were lucky to have anything printed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Neither comment is a point of order.

Mr. Braine

I did not think for a moment that my hon. Friend was attacking me. He made a perfectly valid comment and I hope that he will have an opportunity to develop his argument in more detail later.

May I draw the attention of the House to paragraph 16(c)(ii) of each Order which refers to the exemption of these officers and experts from Customs duties and taxes on the importation of … articles which were in his ownership or possession or that of such a member of his family, or which he or such a member of his family was under contract to purchase, immediately before he so entered the United Kingdom. I question the word "immediately". What does it mean in this context? Does it mean a day or a week before he entered the United Kingdom? Would a contract entered into by an officer or a member of his family a month before he entered the country be permissible? The meaning is obscure, although it appears to have the intention of encouraging purchase just before, immediately before, entry; and that surely could defeat the real intention of the provision.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Has my hon. Friend ever seen a document as intricate as this with such a weak Explanatory Note, the paucity of which is surely a matter for comment?

Mr. Braine

My hon. Friend is right. A better drafted Explanatory Note might have saved the House a good deal of time and trouble. This one might just as well not have been published. The Under-Secretary said that these privileges and immunities do not apply to members of the families of these officers. Has he studied the paragraph which I just read out? He must tell those in certain quarters to get the facts right. Does the Order apply to officers and their relatives? I serve warning here and now—

Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)

Fear strikes our hearts.

Mr. Braine

We have a long time for this debate. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I, or my hon. Friends, who are raring to go, will go over the Order line by line and word by word pointing out the sloppy draftsmanship and the paucity of information laid before us. But I want to be fair—

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I share my hon. Friend's views about the paucity of information, but I hope that he will be fair, as he always wishes to be, and acknowledge that these documents—although the Explanatory Note is worthless—are drafted with a degree of clarity to which we are not accustomed in Bills. They may not be very good, but they are better than most.

Mr. Braine

These matters are relative, of course. The Order may be a slight improvement on the Bills we have been getting and at least we have these documents, which has not been the case in some instances lately. But choosing my words carefully, I serve notice now that we will go over these Orders and any others that follow with a toothcomb to stop slipshod drafting like this. The very least that we expect from the Under-Secretary is that he will assure us tonight that there will be no repetition of this practice, which is treating the House with something like contempt.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I tried to intervene earlier in the Under-Secretary's speech to ask him a civil and courteous question to elicit some information which the House should have. For some extraordinary reason, he did not show the normal courtesies which an hon. Member might expect when the House is not particularly pressed. I must, therefore, start by asking him the question which I could not ask him then—

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

My hon. Friend, for whom I have great regard and respect, is being a little unfair. No one would say that the Under-Secretary is discourteous. The trouble is that he has strict instructions not to give way lest he finds difficulty in answering questions.

Mr. Griffiths

No doubt my hon. Friend puts a more charitable interpretation on the circumstances than I do. However, the question I wanted to ask the Minister arose out of his own statement. I understood him to say that dependants of those who will come here and enjoy diplomatic immunities under this Order will not themselves receive these immunities.

I should like him to confirm to me now whether that statement is correct. If he will consult the International Organisations Act, 1968, the parent of this Order, he will see that it says in Schedule 1, Section 23(3) Persons who are members of the family and form part of the household of such a member of the official staff … shall be entitled to the privileges and immunities set out in Part II of this Schedule". I have served on a number of Committees concerned with diplomatic immunities, as the Minister may or may not know, and we have debated with a number of his colleagues this question as to how far diplomatic immunity should or should not extend to families and to dependants. This is something I think we need to know, and in my judgment the statement which I thought I heard the Minister utter was incorrect. I will be very glad to give way now if he will tell me whether or not I understood his words correctly. Does it extend to families or dependants, or does it not?

It seems perfectly obvious that the Minister either does not know or that he prefers not to get on to his feet because he is frightened of falling over them. The House of Commons is being asked tonight to admit to our country a number of officials who will serve the International Coffee Organisation—and I am one of those who welcome them to this country—but before Parliament gives the Government the right to extend to these officials diplomatic immunities which involve relief from taxes of many kinds, we are entitled to know whether or not these immunities extend to their dependants.

I find it beyond belief that the Minister is not prepared to give me an answer. Does he not know? I appeal to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not this a perfectly reasonable question which I am putting? It is obvious that the Minister is not willing to reply, and I shall therefore begin my speech under protest.

I begin with this agreement, and I echo some of the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) when he says that this is a poorly drafted Statutory Instrument. Let me say that I welcome both these Instruments. I am sure that the headquarters agreement signed in New York which has made it possible for the Sugar Organisation to be set up here was a good one, and that we ought to welcome it. The same is true of the agreement that permits the Coffee Organisation similarly to be established here in London.

I am sure that the House welcomes this for several good reasons: firstly, because both these international organisations are concerned with the orderly management of international trade, and as a trading country ourselves we have—perhaps almost more than any other country—a great interest in seeing orderly management of world trade.

Secondly, I am glad to see both these Organisations coming to London because I believe it helps our national capital, and has what I might call a number of spin-off advantages. The fact that the Coffee Organisation and the Sugar Organisation are headquartered in London is bound to bring a great number of delegations of experts to Britain, and this too I think should be welcomed.

Having made these two general points, I should now like to look into some of the details of the Orders before us. I turn first to the whole wide question of privileges and immunities, which are not unfamiliar. They have been extended over the years to a whole array of international organisations and foreign embassies and consulates in this country. But Parts II and III of the Orders contain the extension to a fairly substantial number of people, perhaps, of exemptions from British taxation. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East asked how many people we are now extending these privileges to. That is a relevant question. It was asked in respect of the Consular Relations Act and the Diplomatic Immunities Act, and we have the answers in those cases. We are entitled as a Parliament to know how many will similarly be advantaged under the Orders. We should know the answers at least approximately before we agree to them tonight.

The taxes from which the servants of the two Organisations will be exempted are set out fairly carefully in the various headquarters agreements and, I believe, in the International Organisations Act, which is the parent of the Orders. The taxes referred to are income tax, customs duties, petrol, wine and spirits duties, the capital gains tax, estate duty and purchase tax, as well as exchange control. I believe I have covered most of them, but we have so many these days that it would be a very long list if I gave them all.

I ask the Minister, in the dwindling hope of getting some sort of answer, precisely what is to be regarded as the necessary amount of wine and spirits freely imported for representatives of the International Coffee and Sugar Organisations for the purpose of their duties? The Minister may remember—though I do not know whether he remembers anything—that in the course of the passage of the Consular Relations Act we discovered the extraordinary fact that the Foreign Office had in practice given relief from duty on hydrocarbons and wines and spirits without any Parliamentary authority, and it had been giving this relief for some time. That is why we need to know what quantity of wine and spirits is regarded as being necessary for the performance of the duties of the gentleman who will come here under the Orders.

Are they to have a quart of whisky a day, a week or a month? We are entitled to some idea of the view of the Foreign Office on the amount of wine and spirits a coffee expert requires to drink in a week for the performance of his duties. A definition is required, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give it to us when he replies. Some of us might imagine that they would prefer coffee anyway.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is an international beverage known as Irish coffee, which requires not only a coffee content but an alcoholic base?

Mr. Griffiths

I have heard tell of this brew, but I have not had the pleasure of sampling it.

"Hydrocarbons" is an expert expression for petrol. How much petrol per expert or official will be brought into this country without payment of duty for the benefit of the International Coffee and Sugar Organisation? Is it to be supposed, for example, that a man here on behalf of the International Coffee Organisation will motor 100 miles a week, and if so how much free petrol will he have for that purpose? Or is it to be supposed that he will drive very much more than that? Once again, we should have some idea and hon. Members who do a great deal of driving know that the total relief from petrol tax is a considerable concession. Indeed, when we were debating the Consular Relations Act and the Diplomatic Immunities Act, we appreciated that we were giving these foreign guests an advantage of about 3s. 6d. or 4s. a gallon. I suspect that it is now about 4s. 6d. or 5s. per gallon. What is the approximate estimate that the Foreign Office is making of this concession now?

I turn to the other range of taxes from which these gentlemen will be exempted. We must accept the exemption for income tax because it is reciprocal. British nationals serving abroad benefit from relief in the countries in which they are serving, although the relief we grant is much greater because, generally speaking, our income tax is much higher than in other countries. We are thus giving these guests in our midst a rather larger privilege because of the greater levels of our income tax.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I hope that my hon. Friend will not pursue that argument too far because, if what he says is taken literally by other countries, they may put up their income tax so that they can say how kind they are to our nationals.

Mr. Griffiths

That is a possibility but I would not wish it on any of them. I am rather more concerned about the freeing of those who come here to serve in these two organisations from exchange control, capital gains tax and purchase tax. No doubt some of these gentlemen to be exempted from income tax will have a fairly substantial income. If they are prudent, I am sure that they will wish to invest some of their income in the British stock market. This is one of the spin-offs to which I have referred. It should assist our stock market if we have these well-to-do, international gentlemen buying equities in this country. It is my hope, as one who approves of the international capital market, that they will do well and profit from their investments. But I understand that, uniquely, they are to be free of capital gains tax.

It is surely not a necessary part of their duties in Britain that they should be exempted from capital gains tax. I see the case for exempting them from income tax because it affects their day-to-day work and that it is probably appropriate to let them off the hydrocarbon and spirit taxes because they need these things. In a previous debate, a Minister described whisky as one of the tools of their trade and to some extent he was right. But I do not think that playing the market is in any way a necessary part of their duties as diplomats in this country and do not see why their profits from doing so should be exempted from capital gains tax. Let us, by all means, exempt them from income tax and hydrocarbon oils tax, but surely not from capital gains tax.

Then there is exchange control. I appreciate that it would be wrong to place guests and foreign diplomats in our midst under the onerous restrictions that we have to face. In a country with the foreign exchange problems that we have at present, with so much pressure upon our balance of payments, it is inequitable and moreover unnecessary, to provide large numbers of international civil servants with complete freedom from exchange control. Where they need to be free of exchange control for the purpose of going about their business abroad that must be right. This House would never wish to deny it to them.

On the other hand, if they are going off on their holidays, if they are just buzzing down to Majorca for the week-end or pushing off to the Bahamas or somewhere of that sort, I should have thought there was no reason, when they are going on personal holidays, for them to be exempted from the exchange controls and the allowances imposed upon British citizens.

I turn to another exemption contained in the Orders, namely exemptions of the headquarters buildings set up by these two Organisations from any payment of local rates. The local authority, presumably the Greater London Council, or the London boroughs, will not be able to collect any rates from the offices of these two Organisations. There is a point of principle here. It is that missions, diplomatic and consular, and international, are supposed to pay for a proportion of the services which they receive from the local authorities. I believe that they are charged their water rate, because it can be metered. This is the practice in all foreign missions here.

What is to happen, for example, in respect of the police services? We all know that the police services have to be provided for foreign missions. The Soviet Mission certainly requires them, the Chinese require them on occasions, although often the Chinese attack the police. There is the problem that, if additional police are to be provided for the protection of these large numbers of international missions in our midst, some arrangement ought to be made whereby the local authority, providing 50 per cent. of the money for the police, is able to be compensated in some fashion. This is not provided for in the Orders. It is quite wrong that if they are to be given complete freedom, as the Orders require, the Government should not come forward and show in what way they will make up to the local authority the proportion of money that is spent on the police protection of these buildings.

I come now to the numbers and categories of persons in these missions who will benefit. We have asked for the numbers and we have not been vouchsafed a reply. I have studied with some care all the documents that go before these Statutory Instruments, the original International Sugar Agreement, the original Headquarters Treaty, and all the Schedules thereto. I find that persons who are members of the family and of the households of the officials attending these Organisations are given immunities under the Orders. The Minister told us differently, but I am bound to say that in this case I have done my homework rather better than he has.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Article 15(2) in Part IV states: Part IV of Schedule 1 to the Act shall not operate so as to confer any immunity or privilege on the families of officers to whom this Article applies. Perhaps that paragraph applies only to that Article.

Mr. Griffiths

That is precisely the point, and this confirms my hon. Friend's comment about sloppy drafting. As I read that paragraph it refers to Part IV under the heading "Officers". I see no such provision under the headings "All Officers" which is a different category. Equally, in this extraordinary category of "experts" the Act does not confer immunity upon the families of experts. The representatives, the high officers and the experts have to pay for their families, but there is nothing in the Order covering the families of other officers. If the Minister had answered my question in the first place we should not be in this difficulty.

It is not simply a question of how many will benefit. The question is how far the category of experts extends. There is no definition and nothing to show where the category of expert begins and ends. Presumably a chauffeur is an expert, and a chauffeur is covered in the Consular Relations Act and the Diplomatic Immunities Act. Is he covered here? We are entitled to know. Is the gardener employed by the head of mission regarded as having immunity? Is the nursemaid who looks after the family of the head of the International Coffee Organisation to be regarded as an expert—I have no doubt that she is an expert in her duty. Does the term "expert" include all these members of the family of the head of the mission?

I come now to the Headquarters Agreement from which the Orders stem and which is both cognate and referred to in the Statutory Instruments. Article 26(2) specifies that the Government shall issue to all staff members on notification of their appointment a card bearing the photograph of the holder and identifying him as a staff member. This card is to be accepted by the appropriate authorities as evidence of identity and appointment. Who will issue the identity cards? Who will have the photographs taken, and who will give them to the experts when they arrive here? Will that duty be laid upon the over-burdened police force, or will it be done by the Foreign Office staff? Is it the wish of the House that those who come to our country as guests should have to carry identity cards? I have lived for many years in foreign countries and, even if I have been required to have an identity card with a photograph, I have never been required to carry it with me. Will the Government, under Article 26, require diplomats to carry identity cards?

There are other problems which I should like to ventilate, but I know that a number of my hon. Friends are anxious to join in the debate, and there are crevices which require exploration.

I conclude with these two points. I welcome these two Orders. It is right that we should have them. It is utterly wrong that they should be so badly drafted, so full of holes and that there should be such a lack of definition as to those to whom they apply. Whereas I do not anticipate that we shall oppose them, I expect the Minister to do a little better and show us a little more courtesy than he has managed to do so far.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have no—

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It used to be the custom in the 19th century to adjourn the House on the receipt of great news. I have to acquaint the House with the fact that Labour has regained control in Sheffield, and I ask that the House should be adjourned for that reason.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The point may be of interest, but it is hardly a point of order.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I do not know whether that qualifies as great or good news, but if it gives cheer to the downcast spirits of hon. Gentlemen opposite, so be it.

I have no wish to speak at great length. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to disperse to their constituencies, where they will be so gladly received. However, we should scrutinise these important Orders with the care that they deserve.

Criticism has been made already of their drafting. I do not wish to join in it, although I defer to the view of my hon. Friends that these Orders might have been better drafted. At least we can be thankful that they exist in writing and that we have been able to obtain copies from the Vote Office.

Those hon. Gentlemen opposite who obviously wished this debate to be brief might have been better served by their hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. The debate would have been a good deal shorter if he had given us more explanation of the Orders. He read a statement to us at almost breathless speed, and it was difficult to follow what he said. When he was asked for elucidation by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), he failed to give it. The debate has been protracted because we have been trying to probe the Orders and obtain replies to our questions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) referred to the debate in another place on the International Sugar Organisation Order, though not the International Coffee Organisation Order. In that debate, my noble Friend the Earl of Bessborough said—

Mr. Roebuck

The hon. Gentleman must not quote what was said in another place.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I do not propose to quote verbatim what he then said, but my noble Friend pointed out that before the war he had been an international civil servant with the League of Nations Secretariat concerned with refugees. We are here concerned with Orders relating to the headquarters of international organisations, and the headquarters of the body my noble Friend served were also based in London. He said that in those days we did not have any of these immunities and privileges—they were not then felt to be necessary.

Times have changed. We wish to give full hospitality and reciprocity to international organisations, but there is no doubt that there has been the most remarkable proliferation of these organisations. We can usually debate them only one at a time, but this evening we are debating two together. But, since the war, so many organisations have come into existence, and to their representatives, whether they be high officers or low officers—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the Orders which are before the House. We are not discussing immunities in general, but merely their application to those people who are referred to in the Orders now before the House.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back within the compass of the rules of order. I was trying to say that our view of these Orders relating to international organisations must be governed by the number of international organisations which exist. There comes a point when things get beyond the limit. We are entitled to question whether there may be too many international organisations now represented in this country whose officers, whether they be high officers or low officers, enjoy immunities. Our constituents are also entitled to ask us to scrutinise the matter in order to establish whether or not these Orders will put the number of proliferating international organisations beyond their reasonable limit—

Mr. Braine

Would not my hon. Friend agree that we have these international organisations—they are here—and it is not, perhaps, so much their number that matters. What should be the concern of the House of Commons is the complete inability of the Government in laying Orders like these to tell us precisely what these immunities and privileges are, to whom they are to be extended and how many more people are to be added to those who already enjoy these immunities and privileges.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

That is quite right. I hope that we shall be given a full reply. I have here a list of some, at least, of the international organisations which have been the subject of legislation according immunities to their servants. It would be quite wrong for me to read the full list, but will the Under-Secretary tell us how many there are? First of all, how many organisations are there to whose representatives these immunities apply? We are now being asked to give immunities to the representatives of two new organisations—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must not allow the hon. Gentleman to go wide on the Orders. We are discussing the application of the Orders only to the groups concerned: we are not concerned now with any other groups.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Indeed. I was saying that we are now being asked to approve two Orders regarding two international organisations, namely, the International Sugar Organisation and the International Coffee Organisation, and that they be added to a formidable list of international organisations. If the Under-Secretary can help by assuring us that this is not completely out of control, that the numbers are not—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister would be out of order if he attempted to answer that question.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

It is a matter of regret that the rules of order prevent the House being given this information.

Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us how many persons belonging to these two international organisations will be affected by these immunities and, of those numbers, how many are British subjects or commonwealth citizens.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) recounted the immunity from taxation which would be accorded to officials of these two Organisations. It is a mouthwatering list of exemptions from taxation. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister what will be the loss to Her Majesty's Treasury and to the taxpayer from the immunities which will be accorded.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I do not think that our concern is what it is likely to cost. We want to know how far the privilege extends and to whom. We do not want to give the impression to anybody involved that we are niggling at cost. But we should know to whom it applies.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I am sorry if I gave the impression of niggling. I accord my welcome to the Orders in general, badly drafted though they are and ill-explained though they were by the Under-Secretary. I do not wish to take any niggling attitude. But it is a matter of concern to this House to know how many persons are involved and to what extent there will be immunity from income tax, surtax, capital gains tax, selective employment tax, and, of course, from the municipal rates, to which my hon. Friend referred in his admirable speech.

As other hon. Members wish to speak, I come briefly to the immunities from legal proceedings. The Minister said—although he spoke so fast that it was difficult to catch his words—that there were certain legal proceedings from which there would be no immunity and that we would welcome that. But there is a vast number of legal proceedings which it will not be possible to apply to officials of these two Organisations. We should take note of that. If the Minister wishes to say anything further upon that I should be grateful.

Lastly, I wonder whether there is a security aspect to all this. I do not wish to say anything about a case which may be sub judice at this moment, but there have been cases in the past when members of international organisations, stationed in the capitals of other countries, have been engaged in espionage and activities dangerous to the state which has given them hospitality. We should like to be quite certain that no immunity that is accorded by this House would in any way preclude the necessary security measures against activities of that kind.

11.39 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

It is indicative of the state to which the Labour Party has sunk that the knowledge that it has gained control of a city council is greeted as great news by hon. Gentlemen opposite and raises a large cheer.

Turning to the Orders, several points have been clearly made by my hon. Friends, which I do not intend to repeat. Instead, I should like to raise a couple of other points. I do so, because, as has been said, the Under-Secretary spoke rapidly and briefly. What he told us was useful, but it was not sufficient. I have additional questions to put to him.

I should like to know how on earth any Government Department could have permitted such a weak interpretation paragraph as paragraph 2. Its three subparagraphs contain a collection of words which are capable of almost any interpretation in the English language. For instance, what is the exact difference between "Representatives", the heading for paragraph 14, "High Officers"; the heading for paragraph 15, "All Officers", the heading for paragraph 16, and "Experts" the heading for paragraph 17? Why is not the difference explained in the interpretation paragraph?

I know the Under-Secretary well and I know that he is not a man who would deliberately treat the House with discourtesy, but after the arguments of my hon. Friends he must admit that the House is short of the information it needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) asked into which categories the different servants of the Organisation would fall. What would be the categories of chauffeurs, gardeners, cooks? Is a secretary classed as an expert, or simply as an officer? Into which category would clerks fall? Four different categories are itemised and each has a slightly different treatment and it would help the House if hon. Members were told what type of employee fell into each category.

The International Sugar Organisation is to replace the International Sugar Council. Are the privileges which we are asked to confer on the Organisation at least equalled by privileges granted to members of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement? The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is an important structure upon which we depend for most of our sugar supplies. Do the officials of that important organisation receive like privileges?

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has there, by some method not known to us, been formed a National Government? I see my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) acting as a P.P.S. to a Government spokesman. Has something happened of which the House should be aware?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order.

Mr. Farr

I was asking the Under-Secretary an important question of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Are officials of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement to have the same kind of privileges that we are proposing to confer on officials of the International Sugar Organisation?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member is going a little wide of the Orders. It would not be in order for the Minister to reply to those questions.

Mr. Farr

My difficulty, and I am sure that it is shared by a number of my colleagues, is that we know too little about the scope of the Orders.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Farr

I am glad to have the support of the Treasury Bench in that respect.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is not my hon. Friend in order in asking these questions? There is contained in the International Sugar Agreement an article which specifically deals with the experts of Commonwealth countries and other countries with which the International Sugar Organisation will have to deal when it comes to London.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We are not discussing that Agreement tonight. We are discussing the two Orders which are before the House.

Mr. Farr

I respect your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think you will appreciate that, dependent as we are in this country on the valued supplies of Commonwealth sugar, in making my speech tonight it is difficult not to refer to the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement en passant. I want an assurance that the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement officials receive at least like privileged treatment as these international officials do.

As I said a moment ago, much of our difficulty would have been resolved and we would not have put these questions if only the Minister had told us the total number of persons who are to receive this privileged treatment. The Minister did not tell us the total number. He did not take the opportunity which was afforded him by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds of giving the House the benefit of that information. Naturally, hon. Members on both sides of the House are chary of granting an unknown number of officials these vast privileges which have been spelt out so ably in other speeches.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that he believed that these officials and, we understand, their families who play the markets in this country would be exempt from capital gains tax. I would add that they would also be exempt from stockbrokers' stamp duty on these transactions.

We are also in some difficulty in understanding how much importance we should place upon these exemptions contained in these Articles. We do not know how many people they refer to. The Minister must have some idea. Is it in hundreds or in thousands?

Mr. Braine

It is an official secret.

Mr. Farr

The fact that we do not have any idea from the Minister makes us reluctant to allow the Order to pass without further explanation.

I wanted to refer to a couple of other points, particularly on Article 10 relating to the import of capital equipment. Why is it necessary for the Organisation to import large quantities of foreign capital equipment into this country, duty and tax free? I know from my own experience—and other hon. Members on both sides of the House know it—that in this country we have a very sophisticated range of office equipment, including the latest type of computer, which can surely satisfy the needs of the International Sugar Organisation, without bringing in a large quantity of capital equipment from abroad, duty and tax free. What are the types of equipment and goods which are referred to in Article 11?

I understand from what has been said earlier in the debate that Article 12 means that these privileged people will receive a full refund of all petrol duty and that they will be able to drive around with duty-free petrol in their tanks. Article 13 apparently gives them the very important privilege of being able to purchase in any of our shops purchase tax-free goods.

We may be making a mountain out of a molehill, and we may not. We ask the Minister to give us some idea of the total number of people who will be in that very privileged position if the House confirms these Orders.

11.50 p.m.

Mr. Whitlock

I am sorry that some hon. Gentlemen opposite, by their sometimes pompous, and sometimes nitpicking, approach to this matter have delayed the House from giving a speedy welcome and approval to these Orders which are recognised by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) as enabling us to act as a more generous host to the people of these organisations—a suitably generous host, but not an over-generous host.

Where I am able to answer some of the questions which have been put to me I shall do so, but, as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) said, he is an expert on this matter but he still does not know the answers to them. In some cases so pernickety and detailed are some of the questions, that offhand I am not able to answer them either. But where the questions are worth all the trouble I shall write to hon. Gentlemen opposite if I do not cover them in the course of my reply.

I have been asked about the total number of staffs of these Organisations. The total number of staff of all grades of the International Coffee Organisation is at present 65, that of the International Sugar Organisation is 18.

Mr. Farr

Do those figures include families?

Mr. Whitlock

I said quite specifically "the staffs of these Organisations". I have no idea what their progeny is, and I shall not make inquiries about that.

I have been asked why the provisions conferring on staffs exemption from social security obligations are in both these Orders and not in the Order relating to the International Wheat Council. During the negotiations with the Wheat Council we offered to exempt its staff from social security obligations, but the Council declined the offer because the majority of its staff are British and would not in any case have been exempted, while the few foreign staff preferred to remain covered by United Kingdom arrangements. In the case of the Coffee and Sugar Organisations, the majority of the staff are foreign and prefer to be covered by arrangements made in their own countries or by the Organisations. The provision for exemption was therefore included in the Headquarters Agreement with these Organisations.

I have been asked about the position of families under Article 16(c)(ii). Customs privileges are not given directly to families, but obviously an officer may use his privilege to import articles for members of his family. I point out to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that while the 1968 Act gave power to extend privileges and immunities of high officers to families, these Orders do not take that power, and therefore the Orders do not apply to families. I said that earlier, and I say it again.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East also asked about the application of Article 16(i)(ii) to an officer who had entered into a contract before arrival here. If he had entered into such a contract to purchase a month before he came here, he would still be under contract immediately before coming here, or else he would be in ownership or possession of the article. I therefore do not follow the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Braine

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. I was questioning the relevance of the word "immediately". If that word was not in the Article, the meaning would be clear. The word "immediately" begs the question which I asked. I was questioning the use of the word "immediately". I was questioning the draftsmanship of the Order.

Mr. Whitlock

If he had entered into a contract a month before coming here he would still be under contract immediately before coming here.

Mr. Braine

Exactly. Therefore, "immediately" is redundant.

Mr. Whitlock

The hon. Gentleman may question the draftsman on the insertion of this one word. I prefer to believe that the legal draftsmen have been exact and correct.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds asked how much wines and spirits can be imported by these Organisations for their official use. The Customs and Excise authorities have limits for the amount of spirits, and so on, which may be brought in, and they treat these as a ceiling. The authorities do not state that amounts which they treat as ceiling, because it would only encourage everyone to go up to ceiling. The ceiling was, I believe laid down in the days of the last Administration. One would therefore think that in those days hon. Members opposite would have been querying the figures.

Full diplomatic taxation exemption is given only to high officers. That means to only one man—the high officer under the Coffee Order—because there is not one at present entitled under the Sugar Order. Other staff get only income tax relief emoluments conditional on their paying the internal tax to the Organisation and Customs privileges only on personal goods imported on arrival. They do not get duty-free petrol.

I was asked about exchange control. The Exchange Control Act, 1947, is the authority for the provision in the Agreements. Therefore, exchange control exemption is not provided for in the Orders. Capital gains tax exemption is given only to one high officer in the Coffee Organisation. The exemption does not apply to capital gains arising in Britain.

Relief from rates, which is accorded to a diplomatic mission under the Diplomatic Privileges Act, 1964, is relief from the so-called non-beneficial portion of the rates, which relates to services from which the mission or organisation is deemed not to derive direct benefit. The largest element in this part relates to education. The beneficial part of the rates includes drainage, fire services, refuse removal, street maintenance, parks and open spaces. The method of according the relief is that the Treasury pays the total sum involved to the local authority in the first place and recovers the beneficial portion from the Organisation. The mission or organisation does not pay the police element, because we have a duty under international law to protect its premises. Other points I should be very happy to write and enlighten hon. Gentlemen.

I hope it will be agreed by the House as a whole that the United Kingdom derives political and financial benefit from the presence of these Organisations. Their presence reinforces London's position as the centre of world commodity trade and valuably influences our balance of payments by the expenditure of these Organisations and of 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 at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and until now these bodies have not received privileges and immunities commensurate with their functions and importance. With the passage of these Orders that defect in our arrangements for international organisations will be taken care of, and I therefore hope that the House will approve them.

12.1 a.m.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Am I right in supposing that if one of the people with these privileges and immunities invests and makes a gain on his securities, he will nevertheless have to pay capital gains tax?

Mr. Whitlock

He would have to pay.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I have considerable sympathy for the Minister in this matter because I recall being in a similar position, when I played a part in getting a sugar Measure through all its stages. These are intricate matters and one would not expect a junior Minister to carry all the answers to complex questions in his head. For this reason, when we were in office, we made sure that a Law Officer was on hand to answer difficult questions. Hon. Members are entitled to such answers, and it is to be regretted that a Law Officer is not present tonight.

My hon. Friends and I are not criticising the hon. Gentleman. I blame whoever organises Government business for not giving him the necessary support, particularly on legal and complex matters, to conduct the debate properly. It is the job of junior Ministers to listen patiently, to answer our questions as best they can and to get the Government's business through in the best possible way.

The hon. Gentleman must show patience and generosity to hon. Members who seem to be probing matters deeply. It is not helpful for him to talk about my hon. Friends being pompous and nitpicking in their attitude. We are merely doing our duty. He described the conditions which we are considering, when questioned by us, as being generous but not over-generous, and—

Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

On a point of order. Would you agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are stretching the over-generous side of your nature in allowing the hon. Gentleman to speak on matters which have nothing to do with the Order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I was about to intervene, but I thought that the hon. Gentleman had almost concluded.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I would have argued the point if you had, Mr. Deputy Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and I resent the presumption of the hon. Gentleman in raising that point of order. My comments are completely relevant.

The Minister said that families were not covered by this immunity. Had a Law Officer been present, I would have asked him how that assurance squared with what appears to be the clear statement in Article 16(c)(i): . . imported for his personal use or that of members of his family forming part of his household… Perhaps, in legal jargon, those words do not mean what they seem to say. The Minister, who comes from a civilised part of the country, should know the answer. The hon. Gentleman said that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) should not have asked a question to which neither of them knew the answer. But it is the job of the Opposition to ask questions to which they do not know the answers: if they do know, they are taking advantage of the House.

Mr. Braine

Can my hon. Friend throw any light on the heading to Part V? Who are these "experts", and how many are there? We are complaining about this extraordinary loose language.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

My hon. Friend has made one of my points. I do not blame the Under-Secretary. He should have had the support of those who can give an authoritative answer on legal and technical jargon. If it does not sound too pompous, the hon. Gentleman should not pass off these questions by saying that he will write to hon. Members. That is courteous, but the Opposition are not asking for their own personal satisfaction. We have a responsibility to Parliament to get these things clearly on the record, and in a private letter they would not be on the record.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

It is worse than that. Time and again, Ministers say that they will write to hon. Members, but I have never received a letter answering my questions.

Sir Harmar Nicholls


Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

On a point of order. I understand that this debate can go on for only an hour and a half, and it started exactly 92 minutes ago—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am seized of the point of order, which the hon. Member can leave to the Chair.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

If there is an answer, it should not be confined to a private letter. It should be on the record. This is a difficult and technical matter. The Government know that we will not vote against the Orders. We do not want to be ungenerous to the people who come here as our guests. The Government have a duty—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2 (Exempted business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the International Sugar Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th April, be approved.

International Coffee Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1969, draft laid before the House, 14th April, approved.—[Mr. Whitlock.]