HL Deb 25 March 1952 vol 175 cc914-9

2.51 p.m.

Order for the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time. This is above all a Bill which deals with the affairs of the Commonwealth, and I think your Lordships will agree with me that it would be appropriate, bet ore I come to the measure itself, that I should express on your Lordships' behalf the deep sorrow which we have all felt at the sad news which we heard over the week-end of the sudden death by an accident of Mr. Senanayake, the Prime Minister of Ceylon. Mr. Senanayake was, as your Lordships know, a statesman of outstanding ability. Wise and moderate, he led his country forward with unerring wisdom to full membership of the Commonwealth. Both in Ceylon itself and in the wider circle of our family of nations he made a contribution which will long be remembered for its robust sagacity. We in this country mourn with the people of Ceylon in the irreparable loss which they have sustained by his untimely death.

I come now to the Bill itself. As your Lordships know, this Bill, which we have already discussed, is virtually non-controversial, and there are no amendments on the Paper for discussion on the Third Reading. It might, therefore, seem that it would have been sufficient for me to move it formally. It so happens, however, as noble Lords will remember, that one point was raised in the course of our debates on which I think it only fair to the noble Lord concerned, that I should say something. The point, which was raised, I think, on Second Reading and certainly during the later stages of the Bill, by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, concerned the immunities which are granted under the Bill to certain members of the staffs of the High Commissioners and the Ambassador for the Republic of Ireland for offences committed, not on official duty but on other occasions. If I may say so to the noble Earl, broadly speaking I would entirely agree with his contention that we should be extremely chary in widening too far the area of diplomatic immunity. Indeed, I think I said the same thing to him when he was sitting over here and I was on the other side of the House.

The category to which his particular question refers is—as I am sure all your Lordships and the noble Earl will agree—a very narrow one indeed. So far as I understand it, there is no dispute at all about purely Commonwealth citizens. They receive their immunity under the Bill and we are all agreed about that. Nor is there any dispute, so far as I know, about purely United Kingdom and Colonies citizens—that is to say, chauffeurs who might be engaged in London, and so on. As I understand it, the only class which was worrying the noble Earl were Commonwealth citizens who, by the accident of their own or their fathers' births, were also United Kingdom citizens. My feeling about these people is this. If we preclude them from the immunities which are enjoyed by other Commonwealth citizens on the staffs, we shall in fact be creating (though we may not wish to do so) a greater hardship than we cure. These people are in all but form Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens, Canadian citizens or whatever it may be. If, for purely technical and formal reasons, we deny to those few people—and they are very few indeed—the immunity enjoyed by others who came over with them, I feel that they themselves will feel that they are victims of an injustice and that the irritation which will be caused will be quite out of proportion to any gain which we should get by taking action of that kind.

While, therefore, I do not in the least complain that the noble Earl should keep a very vigilant eye upon the provisions of this Bill, I feel sure that he will agree that the point he has raised is not one which he will wish to press any further. That is all I have to say on the Bill, other points having been threshed out—so far as there were any controversial points—in its earlier stages. It only remains for me to move that the Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to identify myself and those who sit on this side of the House with the opening observations of the noble Marquess about the death of Mr. Senanayake. I have some excuse, perhaps, for underlining what he said, because in the last few years I sat with Mr. Senanayake and threshed out common problems with him, and I had an opportunity of observing that wisdom to which the noble Marquess so rightly paid tribute. He was a great patriot. He was a great lover of his own country and, I believe, he was a great lover of the institutions of this country, too. He was wise enough to see that those two loyalties were in no sense and in no degree incompatible the one with the other. Thanks to his wise guidance, the transition in the form of the government of Ceylon succeeded, and we all looked forward for many years to come to his wise collaboration in everything which concerned the Dominion. Merciful Providence has decided otherwise, and we feel conscious of the fact that that has been a grievous blow to the affairs of Ceylon, of this country and of the Commonwealth.

Secondly, I believe I am right in saying that, after a long but not an unduly long interval, the noble Marquess spoke to us to-day not merely as Leader of the House but also As Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. I should like to congratulate him on achieving that great office, and wish him all good luck in the conduct of it. There has been a large measure of Party agreement on matters which concern the Commonwealth, and I can assure him that, so far as possible, we should like that to continue. I was a little alarmed when I heard that he had assumed this office, lest it meant that he was no longer going to lead the House, which would have been a great misfortune for us. I am glad to say that I have been reassured on this matter, and I hope he will not find the duties of the two posts too exacting.

Now we come to the Bill. I did not think this matter of sufficient importance for me to put down an Amendment and, of course, there being no Amendment down we cannot speak on Third Reading as though there were. I felt it incumbent upon me, however, to carry out the good work which the Leader of the House himself used to assume when he was in this position, because I feel that all Parties in this House must watch this matter most carefully. Quite frankly, if the extension continues as it seems to be doing to-day I shall ask, not only for those noble Lords who sit behind me but for some who sit on the Back Benches opposite, that this matter shall be watched. The noble Marquess said that some people might feel a grievance if they were left out of the provisions of the Bill. They ought not to feel any grievance; they are merely subject to the laws of the land, like everybody else. I think it would be a mistake for us to extend too frequently this diplomatic privilege. I do not mind so much in this case, but there have been celebrated cases in the past where people with diplomatic privilege have got themselves mixed up in breach of promise cases, and so on, in which actions could not be brought against them. It is no hardship for an ordinary person to have an action brought against him if he is defended under the law. Why should not any person be held responsible if he knocks someone down with his car, or something of that kind?

I admit that the matter is a small one, because the diplomatic representative usually waives immunity. However, the noble Marquess has given me an assurance that he will be vigilant in future to see that diplomatic immunity is not extended in too free and wholehearted a manner. He will, no doubt, bear in mind that what is called diplomatic immunity for one man is deprivation of privilege for another. He will no doubt see to it that diplomatic immunity is not conferred on a great number of people merely so that they can consider themselves more important than other people. I, for one, am most anxious that this principle should not be extended one iota beyond what is absolutely necessary. With these remarks I must say that I entirely agree to this Bill. I think it is necessary to place the Dominions in the same position as all foreign countries.

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to re-echo what has been said by the noble and learned Earl and, at the same time, to add a word of congratulation from these Benches to the noble Marquess on his appointment as Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. We know that he will discharge the duties of the office extremely well.

There is another subject on which I wish to say a word. When the noble and learned Earl made some observations last week about the noble Lord, Lord Ismay, I was not in the House. I should like now, on behalf of the noble Lords who sit on these Benches, to say how much we appreciate the services which the noble and gallant Lord has rendered. Lord Ismay had a very distinguished career in the Army. He then held a singular sequence of appointments. He was Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence, for some time Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India, and during the war was Chief of Staff to the Minister of Defence. I understand, too, that he is a personal friend of General Eisenhower. His extraordinarily useful qualities should be of great value. We fully recognise his experience, his ability and his suitability for the appointment, and we all wish him in his new task the great success which we are sure he will deserve.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, by the rules of this House I am not allowed to speak again, but perhaps noble Lords will allow me just to thank the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, for the all too kind things they have said about me. I am now in the position of a person with dual nationality—and that, perhaps, was why I took so much interest in the points which the noble and learned Earl made. I hope that he will accord me full immunity in both these capacities.

On Question, Bill read 3ª, and passed.