HC Deb 20 December 1971 vol 828 cc1253-66

10.1 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Kershaw)

I beg to move, That the Diplomatic Immunities (Conferences) (Nauru) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

It will be convenient if we take at the same time the following Motions: That the Caribbean Development Bank (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, he approved. That the International Tin Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December. be approved. That the Intelsat (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved. That the International Hydrographic Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved. That the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.

Mr. Kershaw

I am obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The six draft orders, which have been laid before the House, all relate to privileges and immunities. I ask the House to consider first the Diplomatic Immunities (Conferences) (Nauru) Order. The purpose of this order is to add Nauru to the countries included in the Diplomatic Immunities (Conferences with Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland) Act, 1961, under which diplomatic Immunities may be conferred upon Commonwealth representatives, and their staffs, attending inter-governmental conferences in the United Kingdom. The order itself will not confer any immunities, but it will enable the Secretary of State to confer them upon any representative of Nauru and his staff while attending a conference by including them in a list published in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes.

As this House knows, Nauru is a small island with an area of approximately 8½ square miles lying in the Pacific Ocean nearly 200 miles west of its nearest neigh bour, Ocean Island. It became an independent republic on 31st January, 1968, and is one of the smallest sovereign States in the world. Its only assets, and the mainstay of the livelihood of its 6,000 inhabitants, are the phosphate deposits which are sold, chiefly to Australia and New Zealand, for the manufacture of fertilisers. The President and Prime Minister of the Republic of Nauru, who was one of the chief architects of the island's independence, is His Excellency Hammer De Roburt, who, it will be remembered, visited London in August of this year, when he had talks with the Prime Minister and other British Ministers.

The five other orders, all made under the International Organisations Act, 1968, relate to inter-governmental organisations of which the United Kingdom is or intends to become a member.

The Caribbean Development Bank (Immunities and Privileges) Order will confer upon the bank and persons connected with the bank the privileges and immunities which are required to be conferred by Chapter VIII of the agreement establishing the bank. Since all the members of the bank are in the Commonwealth, it was not possible to make an order under the International Organisation Act without amending it. Accordingly, Section 2 of the Diplomatic and Other Privileges Act, 1971, included the bank among the organisations to which Section 1 of the 1968 Act applies. In order to join in the work of the bank from the beginning, we ratified the agreement stating that we could not undertake our Chapter VIII obligations until the necessary legislation had been passed.

The scale of privileges and immunities to be accorded to the bank follow closely those accorded to similar financial organisations.

The purpose of the International Tin Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order is to confer privileges and immunities upon the Tin Council and persons connected with it. We are fortunate in having four international commodity organisations here in London. This order will enable effect to be given to a headquarters agreement negotiated between Her Majesty's Government, as host Government, and the International Tin Council. The International Wheat Council, the International Coffee Organisation and the International Sugar Organisation already have similar agreements in force, and once the present agreement enters into force all the commodity organisations with headquarters in the United Kingdom will enjoy a scale of privileges and immunities appropriate to the valuable rôle they play in international trade.

The INTELSAT (Immunities and Privileges) Order confers upon INTELSAT the legal capacities of a body corporate, and certain fiscal privileges, as required by Articles IV and XV(b) of the agreement relating to the International Telecommunication Satellite Organisation known as INTELSAT.

Since the first experimental communication satellite was launched in 1962, satellite communications have become an indispensable element in the international telecommunications network, increasing its capacity and providing additional facilities, such as live television coverage of sporting and other public events happening on other continents, which were not possible by conventional means. In developing its global satellite system, INTELSAT has proved to be a success both as an example of effective international co-operation and as a profitable commercial enterprise. The definitive agreements under which the organisation will operate in future form a sound basis for the management and development of the global satellite communications system and offer satisfactory conditions for continued participation and investment by the United Kingdom.

The remaining two draft orders are straightforward. They relate to the International Hydrographic Organisation and to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research; that is, C.E.R.N. These orders confer upon the organisations concerned the legal capacities of a body corporate; that is, broadly speaking, capacity to enter into contract, to acquire and dispose of property, and to take part in legal proceedings.

I feel sure that the House will approve of these six orders. They are not, in themselves, legislative measures of great importance, but they indicate this country's active support for and participation in measures of international co-operation in a wide variety of economic and technical fields.

10.6 p.m.

Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

Even at this hour, I do not think that the House should pass without question no fewer than six orders, and in the Vote Office I was given a seventh, which is presumably in the pipeline, the I.M.C.O. Order, conferring diplomatic and international immunities and privileges. What a howl of protest there would have been if this had happened under the last Administration! We had absolute hell when one was introduced—"The army of foreigners enjoying duty-free privileges", and all the rest of it. However, if we desire, as we do, to be a great international centre for great international organisations, this is apparently the price that must be paid.

Nevertheless, the House ought to be assured of the necessity for these orders before we pass them, for their effect is to place a not inconsiderable number of people above the law of this country. They will enjoy criminal immunity if they have committed crimes, unless that is waived, and I do not think that that happens invariably. Subject to minor exceptions, this privileged group will also enjoy immunity from our civil jurisdiction. Most are exempted from customs duties and taxes on the importation of goods imported for official use. How far does that extend? Does it apply only to typewriting paper and the rest of it? I wonder. Perhaps we shall be told.

While it is excellent that London should become the centre for international bodies and organisations, the House will want to be satisfied that in all these cases placing this group above the law is justifiable. I make no comment on the first order and welcome Nauru to the community of the Commonwealth. As for the second, I have no doubt that the Caribbean Development Bank will render good service in the Caribbean. But how many individuals and persons will he involved in the enjoyment of these privileges and immunities? Part III of that order refers to officers and experts and paragraph 12 provides: Except in so far as in any particular case any privilege or immunity is waived by the Board of Directors or the President of the Bank, any Governor, Director, alternate, officers and employee of the Bank and any expert…shall enjoy immunity from suit and legal process". After much pressure, civil actions arising out of motor car accidents have long been excluded from the area of immunity, because of the indignation caused in some cases, and that was plainly right. How many will enjoy the privileges there? Is it necessary that all of them should? Perhaps we can persuade the Minister to draw the curtain aside a little so that we may know what is involved.

Dealing with the International Tin Council Order, I welcome the fact that no fewer than four international commodity organisations will now have their headquarters in London. Here again the House would like to know how many individuals are involved in this degree of immunity from suit and legal process. The families of all concerned? How many will there be, approximately, if that is not too difficult a question without notice? One sees a range of officers and their staffs, and servants no doubt, who provided they are not subjects of this country, will enjoy the privileges and immunities.

Then we come to some organisations over which the Minister skated rather lightly. I am not inviting a great discourse on INTELSAT, but it fascinates me. What is involved? The immunities and privileges which it is to enjoy are again substantial. It is the International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation. Perhaps we could hear a little more about it because my curiosity has been roused and while I do not invite any great lecture, a little more information would be useful. It has been described as a commercial organisation but I understand that it is a commercial organisation to which Governments subscribe and which they support.

Then there is the International Hydro-graphic Organisation Order. No doubt many will know what are the functions of that body. Could we know a little more about it? What does it do, if that is not drawing too much upon the patience of the Minister? The Minister skated very lightly over the European Organisation for Nuclear Research Order. Within the limits of security perhaps we could hear a little about this. No doubt it is a tremendously important organisation. Before the House decides these matters I think we ought to have a glimpse at the detail of these organisations and the officers, in whatever number, who are to be placed above the law.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

As this is the season of good will I would hesitate to cast any kind of cloud over the sunshine we are now enjoying. I particularly welcome the Nauru Order and the International Hydrographic Organisation Order. The latter organisation has an important job to do of mapping the seabed, a job which gains in importance to national and international life. It is a great thing that we should have the headquarters of this organisation in London.

In his usual tactful and diplomatic way will my hon. Friend point out to these new organisations that the great countries which enjoy diplomatic privileges, such as the United States and France, are very careful that those enjoying such privileges treat them with great respect? Nothing is more annoying to the ordinary citizen, particularly in the Metropolitan Area of Greater London—one of the boroughs of which I represent—than to see parking restrictions being disregarded by cars bearing CD plates.

I ask my hon. Friend to point out that this is not a matter of carte blanche but a privilege. It is called a diplomatic privilege and immunity and we expect new recipients to treat it as such and to respect it as they would respect the laws in their own countries.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)

I confess that I have a fond feeling for some of the orders, because about a decade ago I spent three weeks as a member of the British delegation to the Vienna conference on diplomatic immunity, and very delightful it was. I am told that we succeeded in getting the diplomatic community in London duty-free genuine Scotch as against duty-free imported Scotch to which up to then they had had to restrict themselves.

We should pay close attention to these matters when they come before the House because immunities which are started for a perhaps quite accidental purpose tend to expand over the years. That cannot be better illustrated than by reference to the order about Nauru. My recollection is that the practice of granting immunity to representatives of Commonwealth countries coming to London for conferences—I think that representatives of foreign countries had always been covered when they came here—was started because, when Sir Milton Margai, who was then Prime Minister of Sierre Leone, came to Britain at the end of the 1950s, someone unexpectedly slapped a writ on him. As a result, the Commonwealth Relations Office, as it was then, discovered a loophole and it was filled.

I dare say that it was a genuine loophole and that it should be permanently filled, but I am not sure. We live in a narrowing world and we should treat representatives of a country when they visit another country for official purposes as normal human being subject to the laws of the countries they visit. No one wants people who are performing diplomatic functions to be unnecessarily bothered by tiresome suits, but the time may have come when Britain, not unilaterally, should take the initiative in trying to narrow the privileges and immunities which diplomats enjoy.

I see no reason why liquor should not be taxed when it is bought by diplomatics in various countries, and as long as it is done on a multilateral basis, no one will suffer except perhaps the diplomatics—and they will suffer in respect of their health. I therefore hope that the Minister will indicate that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is prepared to look at this matter to see whether diplomatic immunities and privileges have reached the point at which they should be considerably narrowed.

I support the appeal of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) to the Minister to ask diplomatic missions to make the least possible use of the privileges they enjoy. The British Government are exceedingly hard on their employees abroad who attempt to abuse diplomatic immunity or to cover themselves by invoking it. The time has come when, without using the sledgehammer of declaring a person persona non grata because he has broken the parking regulations, we should make it clear to diplomatic missions in London that we expect them to be on good behaviour, and that if they are not we shall have to consider using the sledgehammer to crack the nut. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an assurance in that respect.

10.20 p.m.

Sir Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)

I should like to reinforce what has been said in this short debate about the effect of these orders taken together, an effect which is to create a substantial additional class of privileged people in this country.

I have no objection at all that the members of these organisations and people representing Nauru should be given the proper facilities and immunities here, but I think that we are in danger of slipping into a situation where if a person is attached to some foreign mission, some Government department, something of that kind, he is not subject to the laws and regulations of the country to which he is accredited. There is a tendency these days, of which we are all aware, for Governments to take over the administration and running of various activities which are important to them, and this means that their employees in this field have extended to them these immunities which would not be extended to them if they were working for, say, a commercial firm or something of the kind. I wish no discourtesy at all to these people: none whatever. However, I think that the hard-pressed citizens of this country, who sometimes suck their teeth a bit when they see another C.D. car go by, require a little bit of assurance that we are not too ready to give immunity from large sections of the law to people from abroad, perhaps coming here for the first time.

It is not a great point to make, but I think it important to make it, and I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will assure me of what, I believe, is the case, that the magic letters C.D. on the back or the front of a car have no significance whatever—that they are just a badge, they are just a club membership ticket, they do not confer another immunity in the courts. I see that two of these orders expressly exclude motoring offences and that kind of thing; but this is just the kind of offence which touches our people most—our people who are oppressed by parking regulations and all the paraphernalia of getting to and from work.

I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate, he will agree with the general sentiments expressed by Members on both sides of the House that if we pass these orders tonight we shall not be giving a sort of blanket privilege to hundreds of people who we have never seen and whose activities do not impinge upon most of us, a blanket privilege to do a whole range of things which our constituents would not be free to do.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Kershaw

By leave of the House, I will reply to the points which have been raised. Of course, the House is quite right to scrutinise with the utmost care any further extension of diplomatic privileges and immunities, but I assure hon. and right hon. Members that on this occasion they have been hunting a stag when all I put up was a rabbit.

These orders all deal with international organisations. There is not here in question our attitude to foreign countries or the whole of our diplomatic relations with them. With the exception of Nauru, to which I shall refer in a moment, we are in the presence of organisations.

We should pass these orders, first, because we have undertaken to do so and, secondly, because we have taken an initiative within the Council of Europe to get these privileges and immunities fined down to what is absolutely necessary and no more. We have an agreement in the Council of Europe—and the Council of Ministers has also agreed this—so if we were not to do this, it would look as if we were running out on that agreement.

The orders are designed to enable the international organisations concerned to do no more than actually carry out the jobs which they want to do and which we wish them to do. All through, the principle has been that we should not tax these organisations, either because they are made up of people who are representing sovereign states or because they have that quality as international organisations, and because it is unreasonable for the host country to tax revenues which are provided for those organisations by the various members.

The right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) said that there would have been a terrible howl if his Administration had tried to do this. It is a measure of the tact with which he was always able to perform on the Front Bench that when similar orders were made for the International Sugar Organisation, the International Wheat Council and I.M.C.O. in 1968 or 1969 either he or his right hon. and learned Friend the then Solicitor-General was able to get them through the House without anyone objecting.

Sir Elwyn Jones

I am not objecting to these orders, but I hope the Under-Secretary of State will not be petulant because we are asking questions about them. I am surprised that his mood has not been sympathetic. First, he accused us of chasing rabbits—

Mr. Kershaw

No, I was chasing rabbits.

Sir Elwyn Jones

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the hon. Member has never chased anything other than a stag, I am sure of that. It would be interesting to know how many individuals are affected by these orders. I am prompted by the hon. Gentleman's provocation to ask him to tell us that.

Mr. Kershaw

I shall try to do so. I had better go through them one by one. As I explained, we do not normally have representatives from Nauru at conferences here, but when they come it is only right that they should have the diplomatic status which the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) thought to be lacking in the case of Sir Milton Margai. There is normally nobody here at conferences from Nauru, but there might be, and there have in the past been one or two visitors.

Mr. George Cunningham

It is not normal, when diplomatic representatives of a Commonwealth country come here, to invoke the provisions of the Diplomatic Immunities (Conferences with Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland) Act. My understanding is that perhaps it never has been invoked. Will the hon. Gentleman say how often it has been invoked over the last decade, and in which circumstances?

Mr. Kershaw

The position of Nauru is slightly anomalous. Nauru has a different status from that of other Commonwealth countries. It is independent, it does not normally have representation at conferences here and it takes part on a reduced basis in Commonwealth activities. It does not take part in activities in which heads of Government are involved. Therefore, Nauru comes under special arrangements, and that is why no order like this has been necessary before.

Mr. Cunningham

When is it used?

Mr. Kershaw

It has not been used at all.

Mr. Cunningham

What we are doing is to add Naura to a very long list of countries. How often will the main order be used?

Mr. Kershaw

We have not used it. The object is that when representatives of Naura come here to conferences or on government duty they will have diplomatic immunity during their visit here. The number today is nil, but on occasions there will be some individuals here.

Mr. Cunningham

How many times has the hon. Gentleman used the main order?

Mr. Kershaw

We have not used it. The Caribbean Bank is a more substantial matter, but there again the number involved was established last year with the participation of the Caribbean countries. Their headquarters is in Jamaica and there is no reason to suppose that, except for a meeting which might be called in London, they will carry on their activities in this country, so that the number of people involved will be very few, and normally none.

The most important part for our purpose is that it will give the Caribbean Bank corporate status in this country which is necessary for it properly to carry out its duties. Unless it has corporate status it cannot move in the financial world as a legal body and therefore it would be at a disadvantage. The number today is none and, so far as we can see, the numbers will be very few in the future—and on only rare occasions.

In regard to the International Tin Council which is established here, the number of people with full immunity is one, namely the chairman. It does not extend to his family or his dependants, or chauffeurs or anything of that sort. Because the present chairman of the Council is a resident of this country, a United Kingdom national, the cost to the country is very small indeed since he does not get the privileges of bringing in custom-free goods which a foreigner has on first arriving in this country. Therefore, we need not be very worried about the numbers there.

Sir Elwyn Jones

I do not want to harass the hon. Gentleman, but he will forgive me for asking about numbers since Part IV of the order refers to "all officers." I wonder why this should be in the plural when apparently only one chairman is involved.

Mr. Kershaw

They have a staff of about 20, but they do not enjoy full diplomatic privileges, about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman obviously is bothered. The only one involved is the chairman.

I come to INTELSAT. I was rather shocked that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not know a great deal about this organisation. I do not know very much about it myself, but it is, as I am sure he knows, an important international technical organisation set up for the purposes of international communications. It has been in existence since 1964 and needs to be a legal corporation within this country. Article IV of the order explains what is being done, and that is virtually all that is being done for this organisation in this country. British firms will benefit from it in terms of subcontracting work in the telecommunications sphere. It is something which from an economic point of view should be supported.

The International Hydrographic Organisation has its headquarters in Monaco and also desires to be a corporate body in this country so that it can undertake certain tasks. There are no motor cars involved, no C.D. plates, and no traffic offences are excused in any way.

C.E.R.N. is a much larger and more important organisation. Here again, the only thing we are doing on this occasion is giving it the legal capacities of a body corporate. C.E.R.N. is a body set up by the countries of Western Europe as long ago as 1954 to provide for collaboration in sub-nuclear physics. No security is involved, because Poland and Yugoslavia have status of observers and it has a collaborative agreement with Russia. C.E.R.N. has one of the world's leading laboratories, which is situated exactly on the frontier—straddling the fronter—of Switzerland and France. Very considerable expenditure is now envisaged in expanding the work.

Britain had hesitations about joining this expansion at first, because we did not entirely approve of the way in which the expansion was to take place. However, after consultations which took many months we have now agreed that the extra effort should be made and alternative proposals put forward which will cost the equivalent of £110 million at 1970 prices. We decided in February of this year that in the new circumstances we would participate. It is expected that our contribution to C.E.R.N. in the financial year 1972–73 will be just over £9 million.

It is, therefore, a very considerable investment by Europe as a whole and by Britain in particular in a field in which it is necessary that Europe should have some base, a field in which we have hitherto been rather surpassed by other countries. It is a matter of the greatest possible importance. It is therefore necessary that we should have corporate personality for this important body. I have no doubt that the activities of British firms will be rendered much easier in relation to C.E.R.N. than they would have been if we had not done this.

Sir Elwyn Jones

As we now have to get used to another international body, this one called "C.E.R.N."—I am sure that the whole House, with the exception of myself, will have been thoroughly familiar with this expression before tonight—will the hon. Gentleman explain what "C.E.R.N." stands for, to help us in the future?

Mr. Kershaw

C.E.R.N. is short for the French name. It is, in English, "European Organisation for Nuclear Research."

Sir Elwyn Jones

It is the French translation?

Mr. Kershaw

Yes. Its French title is "Centre Européen de Recherches Nucléaires".

That brings me to the end of explaining about the orders. I assure Friends the Members for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) and Harrow, West that motoring offences are not part of what we have to bother about tonight. No extension of immunity in respect of those is envisaged. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West noted, this matter is struck out of the order where it could have arisen. The others are unexceptionable. [Interruption.] If the gentleman from Nauru were in a hired taxi, he might be able to argue that the taxi was covered by the Nauru order. Apart from that, I do not think we need be bothered. I hope that the House will approve the orders.

Mr. George Cunningham

I have given the Under-Secretary time, in case it should prove possible for him to obtain an answer. Can he say what the position of Nauru will be in relation to the main order?

Mr. Kershaw

If I have not made myself clear, I will make sure by writing to the hon. Gentleman, if he will allow me to do that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Diplomatic Immunities (Conferences) (Nauru) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.

Resolved, That the Caribbean Development Bank (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.

Resolved, That the International Tin Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.

Resolved, That the Intelsat (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.

Resolved, That the International Hydrographic Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.

Resolved, That the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.—[Mr. Kershaw.]

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