HL Deb 19 December 1940 vol 118 cc190-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I move the Second Reading of the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Bill. As your Lordships will remember, the Bill was introduced a few days ago by the Foreign Secretary, and my noble friend had intended himself to move the Second Reading, but he has been kept to-day by very urgent and important business which cannot be postponed. As I had some part in framing the measure he has asked me to move the Second Reading in his place. As your Lordships will see, the object of the Bill is to ensure to the Allied Governments established in this country, and to associated national authorities established in this country, like the Free French Movement, an appropriate and fitting status by assimilating their treatment in the matter of immunities and privileges to that which is enjoyed by Diplomatic Envoys.

Your Lordships are well aware of the general nature of these immunities and privileges. The Diplomatic Envoy, the Ambassador or the Minister representing a foreign country and accredited to the Court of St. James, enjoys freedom from the local jurisdiction, his residence is specially protected, and he also enjoys certain fiscal advantages. We are at this moment in this country in a novel situation in this matter because of the presence here of the heads of Allied States and of Governments, and the discharge by these authorities of their functions in our midst, although they are speaking in the name of a foreign State. That is a situation which, I believe, is almost without precedent in our own country, though International Law is not entirely unfamiliar with the situation of some Special Envoy who may enjoy what corresponds to diplomatic privilege in certain cases; and the sort of situation we have to deal with is not unlike the situation that arose in France in the last war, more particularly owing to the invasion of Belgium, and also again arose in France at the beginning of the present war. It was thought well then to grant special status to these Allied Governments and their staffs when they were necessarily for the time being withdrawn from their own countries.

His Majesty's Government have given this matter a great deal of consideration. The legal position is undoubtedly, I think, that the Sovereigns or heads of States of the foreign Governments as such already enjoy immunity, which is secured by rules of International Law and recognised in our own Courts. Nobody would seek to bring an action against a foreign Sovereign or against a foreign Government as such; but that does not cover the ground, and legislation is needed to enable us to confer upon individual members of the Allied Government and their official staffs the immunities and privileges to which their position and standing rightly entitle them. Legislation will also be needed to cover the case of the Free French Movement. If your Lordships look for a moment at this interesting Bill you will see that the Bill meets these requirements in what I think is the most appropriate and convenient way by proposing to confer a position corresponding to that of members of the Diplomatic Corps upon the members and the senior officials of the Allied Governments that are stationed in this country—that is to say, the members and senior officials of the Allied Governments of Poland, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Provisional Czecho-Slovak Government, as well as upon the leaders and senior officials of recognised associated national authorities such as the Free French Movement established in this country.

Your Lordships, I hope, will agree that it is appropriate that the responsible Cabinet Ministers in the Allied Governments and the leaders of National Movements shall receive in this country a status not less favourable than that which is enjoyed by diplomatic representatives of the Allied countries at the Court of St. James. As regards the official staffs, our proposal is to draw a distinction between senior personnel—gentlemen in responsible positions—and the more numerous minor clerical and subordinate staffs, and to do this by limiting the grant of diplomatic privileges to officials performing duties not less responsible than those of a Diplomatic Secretary. Moreover, the names of the individuals that would fall within this definition would be included in the lists to be published in the official Gazettes. That is a very convenient arrangement and a very simple arrangement, and it would be possible to administer the immunities and privileges through the existing well-known machinery for the administration of similar privileges in the case of the Diplomatic Corps in London.

Then, my Lords, I must direct attention for a moment to the second clause of the Bill which deals with a cognate matter It is intended to meet the case of the foreign Diplomatic Envoys and their staffs accredited to the Allied Governments, but who are necessarily at present in this country because the Allied Governments are here. If a particular foreign State in normal times would have its Diplomatic Envoys accredited to the Belgian Government in Brussels such a person must in existing circumstances be here in this country, because the Belgian Government is here, and we feel we ought to give to those diplomatic representatives accredited to these Allied Governments a protection which corresponds to the protection we should grant to Diplomatic Envoys accredited to the Court of St. James. I do not doubt that that will be a view which commends itself to your Lordships.

So far I have been speaking simply of the machinery of the Bill and the reasonableness of the proposal. 1 think I have made it plain that the object of the Bill is to give Allied Governments and the Associated National Movements the legal status to which their position and their activities entitle them. But I suggest to your Lordships that really this Bill may be regarded also in a wider and less prosaic manner. I would wish to present it as an emblem of the regard and sympathy which His Majesty's Government and Parliament feel for the Allied Governments who did not lose heart when their countries were successively struck down by the treacherous and brutal aggression of the enemy. We owe something to these brave; men for the course which they have thus strenuously pursued. They took the means open to them to carry on the struggle against the common enemy by coming to this home of freedom, and today they stand united with us, taking the fullest share in the common effort which the means at their command will permit them to take.

As your Lordships know, they are in fact actively raising national forces to fight on our side and we have had many occasions to admire the heroic exploits which the Allied forces have performed in the defence of liberty and in the defence indeed of this country. They are also making valuable material contributions to our common war effort. I would refer particularly to the great assistance which we derive from the co-operation of the Colonial Empires of the Netherlands and of Belgium and of Free France. I need hardly emphasize, too, the moral significance of the fact that these Allied Governments, although forced temporarily to live in exile, are continuing to discharge their functions as the legitimate Governments of their countries and are thus acting as the focus of national resistance and, I trust, of national rehabilitation. What 1 have said, of course, applies with equal force to the strenuous efforts that are being made by the leaders of the Free French Forces in this country. Therefore, both as a matter of suitable diplomatic machinery and on these wider grounds, I commend this Bill to your Lordships' House. I believe there can be no doubt that you will agree that the presence and activity at our side of these determined representatives of national resistance to German oppression is one of the most encouraging signs upon our long and hard road towards victory, and we must be glad to be able to make this small return, this emblematic gesture, by conferring upon them an appropriate and fitting status during their temporary sojourn in our midst. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I am charged with the duty of supporting this Bill very fully indeed. There is little I can add to the eloquence of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. Anything we can give in the way of courtesy and assistance to the Governments and Movements he mentioned of course we should give. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack referred to the great efforts of the nationals concerned. We have just heard an inspiring account of what has been happening in the Western Desert of Egypt, and your Lordships are aware that a formidable force of Free Frenchmen is fighting side by side with our troops there. Of course, the proposal to give their leaders here diplomatic immunity is one at which none of your Lordships can possibly cavil, and I support it very fully. There is one other matter I would like to mention. We have had the greatest assistance, particularly, from the Norwegians, the Belgians and the Dutch and also from the Free French, in shipping. The representatives of His Majesty the King of Norway came over here with a magnificent Mercantile Marine at their disposal and some of the finest seamen in the world. It has been the greatest help to us to have the use of that shipping. These people are not refugees; they are Allies, and they add power to our cause.


My Lords, I feel quite sure that the whole country will unite in paying this tribute to the Governments which now have seats in this country. They were very welcome when they came and this is a way of showing how much we appreciate their presence in our midst. We hope that they may continue to support us until victory has been secured.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.