HL Deb 14 July 1955 vol 193 cc785-96

3.14 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, your Lordships will remember that not very long ago —in fact, on December 21 last year—an Agreement was concluded, and reported to your Lordships at the time, concerning relation; between the United Kingdom and the European Coal and Steel Community. That Agreement provided for a close contact between these two parties and for discussion of matters of common interest between them. I think it was the case, both in another place and in your Lordships' House, that this Agreement was cordially welcomed on all sides.

We have had, in fact, for nearly three years past a delegation in Luxembourg, where, as your Lordships know, the headquarters of the European Coal and Steel Community is situated, and that delegation has been watching our interests and maintaining the necessary contacts with the High Authority which is the executive organ of the Community. Article 5 of the Agreement that I spoke about provides that meetings shall he held alternately at the seat of the High Authority in Luxembourg and, in London, of the Council of Association which is the body established under the Agreement to maintain contact between the two parties. In order to continue that contact between the dates of the meetings in London or Luxembourg, we shall maintain in Luxembourg a small permanent delegation and the High Authority will maintain a similar delegation in London. The short Bill which is before your Lordships is a Bill to confer, once more, certain immunities and privileges on the representatives in the United Kingdom of the High Authority and their staffs, under conditions to which I shall refer in a little more detail later on.

In the course of the protracted negotiations which preceded the conclusion of the Agreement, Her Majesty's Government accepted the view as being a reasonable one—and such, I think, it will appear to your Lordships to be—that the two delegations, the United Kingdom delegation in Luxembourg and the High Authority delegation in this country, should be treated alike from the point of view of the privileges and immunities accorded to each. In this case, it is not possible to use the procedure, with which your Lordships have become, possibly in your view excessively, familiar in the recent past, of proceeding by Order in Council to confer, with the assent of Parliament, certain privileges and immunities, because those Orders in Council owe their validity to, and spring from, the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950. But that Act applies only to organisations of which the United Kingdom is a member. The United Kingdom had accepted membership of several organisations of the kind which I brought to your Lordships' notice not very long ago, but the United Kingdom is not a member of the European Coal and Steel Community, and therefore a different procedure must necessarily be followed. The different procedure is the one which inevitably we have to adopt in this case, which is to proceed by virtue of an Act of Parliament.

I think it is also true to say—though it may be incidental to the general point—that the status and functions of the European Coal and. Steel Community delegation in London and ours in Luxembourg are perhaps rather different from those of the international organisations which we have recently been considering, and, indeed, approximate a good deal closer to the position and the functions of a diplomatic mission of a foreign sovereign Power.


My Lords, would it be a trading community at all? Would it make contracts?


It does little more than set up this Council of Association, which is an organisation for discussion between the United Kingdom and the High Authority, and which reviews and discusses points of common interest between the two. It has little executive function of any kind; it is deliberative.


My Lords, I assume that trading representatives will form part of this High Authority and will meet their opposite numbers from other European countries.


I imagine that they may come here in the course of meetings of the Council in order to discuss matters, but I think they would not form part of the permanent delegation. At this stage it is a little difficult to nominate the capacity in which this, that and the other member on a delegation may be here. But that is how I should foresee the composition of the delegation which we expect to receive here.

The Bill sets out shortly the privileges and immunities proposed. It is to be borne in mind that they are less in this case, in certain particulars, than those which are normally accorded foreign diplomatic missions. Indeed, they are actually less than those which hitherto as a matter of grace have been accorded to our delegation in Luxembourg during the past two and a half years of its function there. They have been reduced in response to a feeling, which we know well to be current, that wherever possible these privileges and immunities should be kept within the narrowest possible bounds, to a point at which the United Kingdom delegation in Luxembourg will actually be on a slightly lower status as regards privileges and immunities than those of other countries represented by similar delegations at the headquarters in Luxembourg. The matter has been referred to the head of our delegation in Luxembourg. That course was suggested by the Opposition in another place in the course of discussion on Second Reading of the Bill, although in fact we had already set that machinery in motion. The head of our delegation has agreed that for practical purposes the slight diminution of what would be the normal privileges and immunities can be accepted in this case.


The head of the delegation is still Sir Cecil Weir?


I do not know whether he has gone out of office yet. His successor has been appointed, but whether he has actually taken over, I am not absolutely sure.

The Bill provides for a lower scale than that normally accorded to foreign diplomats. It gives general juridical immunity only to the actual head of the delegation and his family. The family of no other member of the delegation is given any form of protection at all. No taxation privileges are extended to citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and there is no concession to domestic staff. Although this is always rather a technical subject, the question of rates is also dealt with on a special and more restricted basis than is usual in cases of this kind. I commend the Bill to your Lordships on the basis that it provides only what are the reasonable requirements of a delegation resident in this country and of such persons from the seat of the High Authority as may visit the United Kingdom for meetings of the Council of Association. So far as can be judged at present, those normally resident here will amount to no more than ten persons, but of course the number who may conic when from time to time the alternating conference is held here I cannot at the present moment prophesy with any exactitude.

I know perfectly well that these privileges and immunities are not matters which commend themselves readily to your Lordships' House. At the same time, on this occasion it was fully conceded in another place—although, of course, that does not bind your Lordships—that they are reasonably necessary and reasonable in character. If your Lordships should decide not to grant them, the position established by that refusal would be one of extreme difficulty. The United Kingdom delegation in Luxembourg would find itself the only delegation without diplomatic privilege, and the proposed delegation coming to this country from Luxembourg would inevitably feel, however little it might be the intention of the House to give that view, that their presence was unwelcome to this country, since the privileges and immunities, though actually on a slightly lesser scale than those extended to so many other people, had been refused in their case, whereas they had been accorded to what I know many of your Lordships think to be too many other bodies. In those circumstances it might well be that they would be extremely reluctant to come and the whole arrangement which is established by the Agreement, which is of great benefit to all those concerned, might easily collapse.

On this general question I have observed that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has carried out—I will not say his threat, but his promise, to put down a Motion, which at present stands as "No day named," for the discussion of the whole matter, Perhaps I may also he allowed to call your Lordships' attention to the Written Answer that appears in this morning's OFFICIAL REPORT to the question which the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, put to me, partly on my suggestion, when discussing this matter a short while ago. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(The Marquess of Reading.)

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I have had serious doubts as to whether I should not move that your Lordships reject this Bill. In view of the day, the temperature and the time, I have decided not to do so. But I am in this dilemma: I do not want it to be thought, because I do not suggest that course, that I think this is anything but a very bad Bill. I think that we have really to take this matter up and look at it. I have put down a Motion—I have not the terms of it before me at the moment, but I have used the framework of Dunning's great Motion—asking your Lordships to say that in the opinion of this House the extension of these privileges "has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished." I believe that if your Lordships decide to pass that Motion, when we come to debate it, we shall strengthen the arms of our Government, who are placed to-day in a difficult position because of all these Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Orders —we had four of them last week and we have this Bill to-day.

The principle which pervades the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, seems to be this: that if we want to welcome these people and extend to them courtesy, we have to grant them diplomatic privileges. I believe that to be completely ill-founded. It is a completely new conception. I would point out how odd it is. If our Prime Minister, our Foreign Secretary, or the Lord Chancellor, go abroad on some mission—I used to when I was Lord Chancellor; the Foreign Secretary does it every month, and the Prime Minister not infrequently —they get no diplomatic immunity: they do not ask for it, and they do not want it. Why on earth should we give diplomatic immunity to the representative of the European Coal and Steel Community when he comes to this country? I am all in favour of the European Coal and Steel Community; I welcome the repre- sentatives here, and I do not want to seem to be guilty of the smallest discourtesy towards them. But I cannot think it is a necessary concomitant of showing courtesy to grant diplomatic immunity.

I will not specify times, places or people, but the granting of this diplomatic immunity has led to serious consequences. In my own experience, I have had cases where female servant, have been assaulted and have heel deprived of any sort of redress; I have had cases of shoplifting where we have been unable to do anything; and motor car incidents have been legion. The only reason why this has not become a screaming scandal at the present time is because of the quality and tolerance of our diplomatic corps. Although he has immunity, an ambassador in charge of the mission here of a friendly country, if one of his representatives has a motor car accident, is always ready to do the right thing and to assume the obligation to pay, as though he did not have that diplomatic immunity. We can rely on him to do the right thing—in my experience, he always has done. Had it not been far that, we should not have tolerated diplomatic immunity. I would point out to your Lordships again, and ask you to bear in mind, that what we call diplomatic immunity is nothing other than deprivation of rights, if looked at from the other point of view.

I do not want to say a word against the representative of the European Coal and Steel Community, but why should he not be responsible for his debts; and why should he not he responsible if he does the sort of things I have mentioned? Are not our laws reasonable and proper laws? Must we have some kind of system of capitulation in this country? I ask your Lordships to look carefully at this question—I had it when I was Lord Chancellor, and I had to concede this point. Quite frankly, I resisted the Foreign Office, so far as I could, and I used to be told in those days that the Foreign Office were being impelled by some irresistible force—they did not know quite where it came from; some back room boy sitting somewhere or other was pushing them. They said: "We are sorry. We quite see the point, but we cannot help it." The late Lord Simon, in those happy days, used to attack the whole principle. I feel, to some extent, that the mantle of Lord Simon has fallen on me. He said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 167, col. 296]: I strongly share the view which the Lord Chancellor expressed in Committee on the Bill"— I was then the Lord Chancellor. Lord Simon then quoted my words, and the following words are a quotation from me: I myself feel that we have gone perhaps a little too far in this idea of extending the whole doctrine of diplomatic privilege to include all sorts of people who take part in international discussions. Lord Simon went on to say that he agreed with the doctrine that we should cut down the principle or, at any rate, not extend it unnecessarily. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, took part in a later debate on this subject in his usual robust manner, and this is what he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 168, col. 563] It never occurred to me, when going all over the world to attend diplomatic conferences…that I ought to have diplomatic privilege…it never occurred to me when I was in Rapallo, that if I drove my girl friend round the coast road and ran over some respectable Italian citizen I could expect to enjoy diplomatic immunity. Is this not a time at which we ought not to be extending these immunities? The noble Viscount said, with regard to that particular immunity, which has since been granted: I could not possibly support it. My noble friend Lord Henderson was trying to get it forward, but I, as Lord Chancellor, thought discretion the better part of valour and withdrew it then to consider it further. In due course, however, I was compelled to introduce it, and we have it now.

All these people who come to talk about postal conventions have diplomatic immunity when they come here. I welcome them here; we like discussing postal questions. But I cannot see why it should be necessary to have diplomatic immunity to discuss postal questions. It is nothing to the point that our representatives have the same thing in Luxembourg. I thought it was singularly naive for the noble Marquess to tell us that Sir Cecil Weir, our representative in Luxembourg, had been approached—


It was a suggestion made by the noble Earl's Party in another place.


It may have been made by anybody, but in my view, it is a thoroughly bad suggestion. Why should you approach him to find out his answer? And why should he say, as he did inferentially: "I think it is necessary that I should have diplomatic immunity, so that if I run anybody down in my car I shall not have to pay"? I cannot think that it was put to him in that wad at all.

I say no more now, but this is a matter which is deeply concerning many of us at the present time. I take my stand against this practice. It is not a question of lack of courtesy, or lack of welcome to these people. I think the European Coal and Steel Community is an admirable institution, but I cannot see why the representatives should be given diplomatic immunity. The noble Marquess said that it is not a training organisation. I should have thought that the European Coal and Steel Community must make contracts. If I made a contract with them, and some dispute arose under it, I should be in a difficult position. I should have to disclose all my documents, but all their documents would be privileged. This is but another illustration—we had four of them last week—of what is going on. I ask the Government to consider that these things are not just a matter of course which they can get through the House. I beg your Lordships to consider this fact. If you pass the Motion in the terms I suggest. that this practice has gone on too long and must be diminished, it will strengthen the hands of the Government in future when they come to make all these Agreements, because they will then be able to say: "We cannot give you diplomatic immunity, because we shall have such a bad time when we get to the House of Lords if we do." I hope that in due course, when this question is raised, your Lordships will give me your support in saying that this has gone on long enough and, indeed, has gone too far.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, if I may intervene for a short time, I should like to say that I am in complete agreement with what has fallen from the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, and I shall look forward to his Motion. I should like to ask the noble Marquess whether he or the Foreign Office have any information as to how this question of diplomatic immunity is regarded by other nations. One cannot help feeling that if there is a large body of opinion in this country which looks upon this diplomatic immunity with great doubt, then it must be the same in many other countries. The question may arise, if that is so—if it can be discovered to be so—whether it is not a matter which should be discussed, and perhaps decided, at a meeting of the United Nations. I do not know whether the noble Marquess can give any reply to that question, or whether perhaps he will let me have one later.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for his Written Answer. As he mentioned to your Lordships, he invited me to put down a Question, which I did, and the Answer appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT of yesterday's proceedings. I do not know whether your Lordships have yet had time to see it, but perhaps not. It gave, shall I say, quite an impressive list. It did not include accredited diplomats, but the list of organisations mentioned is quite formidable. I have been totting it up and there are twenty-nine so far. The week before last two more were added, two more last week, and to-day there are two more. That is another six.


They are included.


Then that is my mistake. As the Answer specifically says, it does not cover what I might call the peripatic element, which must be considerable. I agree that it is not easy to see how it could cover them; but obviously there are more in that category than the comparatively small number shown as being resident in this country. I was frankly surprised that the number shown as being resident in the United Kingdom was so small. But if you add all "peripatetics." or whatever the right word may be, it would be much Piper. Surely, it all comes to this. This question of diplomatic privilege has to be very carefully scrutinised in each case. It has been very wide-flung. A great many of us, including myself, are inclined to suspect that it has been too easily given. After all, it is a very special status. They are not amenable to local jurisdiction, local taxation, and so many things. For myself, I am glad and relieved that the noble and learned Earl is bringing this matter up for thorough discussion. That might even lead to some form of inquiry to get to the bottom of this matter. There is certainly an uneasiness which I share.


My Lords, before the noble Marquess replies, could I ask him to clear up one piece of my abysmal ignorance on this subject? Are these various bodies, whose members have diplomatic immunities of various kinds, issued with diplomatic passports by which they can take goods from one country to another? If that is the case, is it not rather strange that our own diplomats, except, I think I am right in saying, ambassadors, are not issued with diplomatic passports? Therefore, there would seem no reason to issue passports to these other bodies.


My Lords, as regards the last question which has been put, frankly I do not know what particular form of passport the various persons coming from other countries carry with them. Of course, there is in these days no such thing as a diplomatic passport in this country.

The general course of the remarks which have been made on this Bill have perhaps rather anticipated the discussion which is likely to take place on the noble and learned Earl's Motion, whenever he attaches a date to its present dateless condition. He will perhaps agree that it will be as well to-day to confine ourselves to consideration of the particular Bill which is before the House, and not wander widely into the considerable field which the remarks directed to this Bill have opened out. I want to say only one or two things. The first is in relation to a specific remark which the noble and learned Earl made, and to assure him that the European Coal and Steel Community itself does not make contracts and is not a trading organisation in any way. So that particular trouble which was afflicting him may perhaps be alleviated.

The whole tone of the noble and learned Earl's speech was that we were handing out over-generously these privileges, whereas there was no particular reason to do so that anybody could detect, and that any impulse to make this generous distribution came from some sort of hidden motive power in the inner recesses of the Foreign Office upon which he was unable to lay his finger. That is a quite inaccurate picture of the situation. It may be that the noble and learned Earl and other members of your Lordships' House do not like these particular privileges and immunities and do not think that they should be granted. But that does not mean that that opinion is universally held throughout the world. There are many countries which attach great importance to it and which, as a condition of entering into what are valuable agreements to this country, insist that these privileges and immunities shall form part of any accord which is entered into. Your Lordships may remember that as regards the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations there is an over-riding agreement in existence to which, so far as I remember, the then Government of which the noble and learned Earl was such an ornament gave its approval in 1947. That agreement places us under an obligation to extend to the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations the privileges which are allowed for under that agreement. It is not a question of caprice or of some strange influence working and persuading the Government to give these privileges, whereas in fact they do not wish to do anything of the kind.

The noble and learned Earl said that the mantle of the late noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, in this matter may have descended upon him. It may be so, but I must remind him that the Bill under which these privileges and immunities are granted to international organisations was a Bill which again the Government of which he was a member was responsible for introducing to this House and carrying through. I cannot help thinking that there there may be a slight separation of paths between him and the late noble and learned Viscount. We shall have a discussion on these subjects probably when we return refreshed to your Lordships' House. All I want to make clear to your Lordships is that this is not merely a matter of over-straining a doctrine in order to ex- tend some unjustified and possibly unwanted courtesy to a body. I do not understand the noble and learned Earl when he says that it is a naïve argument, or that it is no argument, to say that these things are granted on a reciprocal basis. I should have thought it was an argument of considerable force and importance, because, perhaps wrongly, but over the course of years, the possession of diplomatic privilege has come to be looked upon as exalting the status of the person to whom it is accorded and confirming his position as being one of official responsibility and understanding.


May I interrupt the noble Marquess for a moment to make it quite plain why I say it is of no relevance? I object to these privileges because they interfere with the right of the lieges in this country—the ordinary man in the street. They are the people I am concerned with and no one else. They are obviously not affected at all by the consideration of what our people abroad have in the way of privileges and immunities.


I do not suggest they are, but we cannot look at this purely from the effect that it has upon the lieges of this country. These, after all, are reciprocal international privileges, and one has to look not only at the effect in this country but on the status of our own missions in foreign countries as well. You cannot reduce it merely within the confines that the noble and learned Earl was putting forward—whether people are going about doing harm to lieges of this country. I do not want at this day and at this time to carry this discussion further forward when, as I say, we are to deal with the whole matter later. I quite agree that it would be a most valuable discussion for your Lordships to have, and I trust that I shall be able to give your Lordships some useful and convincing information on the whole subject which I realise genuinely exercises the minds of many Members of your Lordships' House.

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