HL Deb 30 June 1955 vol 193 cc400-9

3.50 p.m.

THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS OF READING) rose to move, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation) Order, 1955, be made in the form of the draft laid before Parliament, and reported from the Special Orders Committee on Tuesday last. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, as your Lordships see, there are four of these Orders upon the Order Paper in my name. If the House will agree, I think it will probably meet the general convenience if I make some very brief and overall observations to begin with and then submit the actual Motions to the House one by one at the end.

My Lords, in the course of a year or two I have come to be reasonably well aware that the House is not violently addicted to Orders of this kind, but at the same time it must be borne in mind that the whole trend in modern international politics is the formation of a large number of international bodies at which discussions on various specialised and technical subjects can proceed, and Her Majesty's Government are of the belief that they derive benefit from participation in these various bodies. It must also, of course, be borne in mind that this arrangement for the granting of privileges and immunities is of a reciprocal character, and we cannot expect our representatives to be accorded such privileges and immunities as we should think right, unless we on our side are prepared to extend similar facilities to representatives of other countries.

These four Orders have, as your Lordships will see, all necessarily been before the Special Orders Committee of your Lordships' House and have received the approval of that Committee as being in no way a departure from precedents which have now become not unfamiliar to your Lordships. I am submitting three new Orders and one which is really an amendment of an existing Order. The amendment is the second one, which relates to the World Health Organisation. In fact, all four of these Orders partake of a slightly different characteristic, one from the other, and I think are of an extremely innocuous character. May I just indicate the particular nature of each of these four Orders and the purpose of Her Majesty's Government in putting them before your Lordships' House?

The first Order, which is concerned with the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, is designed to extend to that body the type of privilege which is accorded to the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations. The Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation is not at this moment a Specialised Agency, but this Order is designed to cover the period pending the approval of the usual annexe which, your Lordships may remember, has to be agreed by the Agency and by the countries participating in the particular body, and which embodies the general pattern of immunities and privileges which are set out in the Convention on Privileges and Immunities which was concluded by members of the United Nations in 1947.

As regards the second Order, dealing with the World Health Organisation, there is already in being an Order which regulates the specific provisions in this regard which are to be extended to certain persons belonging to the World Health Organisation. The point about this particular Order, which, as I say, is designed to amend the existing Order, is that it is proposed to extend the existing privileges to cover associate members of that body—associate members being the representatives of such countries as attend the meetings of the World Health Organisation but are not in their own constitutional sphere responsible for their international relations. So far, there are four associate countries only—Tunisia, French Morocco, Spanish Morocco and, most important from our point of view, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It is now desired to extend normal privileges to cover, when occasion requires in this country, the representatives of those associates.

My Lords, the third Order, dealing with the Commission for Technical Co-operation in Africa South of the Sahara is a very modest Order. All it does is to confer upon that. body a corporate status. It extends no privilege or immunity of any kind to any individual; it merely gives to the body itself a corporate status, which has, as noble Lords will realise, this value: that it enables the body to acquire premises, to engage staff, and so on, in its corporate name and not in some sort of rather inconvenient, individual capacity, through its agents.

The Order which deals with Western European Union is made necessary by the alteration which has come over the scene as a result of the Paris Agreements. Your Lordships will remember that the Western European Union came into being to replace the old Brussels Treaty Organisation. This Order is designed to give to the representatives of the Western European Union the same privileges and immunities which were formerly extended to members of the Brussels Treaty Organisation. I think I ought to say this to the House: that there is in this last Order a provision of a retrospective character, in so far as that, in granting certain persons exemption from United Kingdom income tax it makes that grant retrospective until May 6 last. That is not a very long period. I succeeded once in persuading your Lordships to accept an Order which was retrospective for the same purpose for the period of nearly three years. This, however, is only a period of six or seven weeks, and it would, I think, be an unjustifiable hardship on the Brussels Treaty personnel—who, after all, are the same people, in most cases, who now continue under Western European Union—if there were this gap in the exemption which they were entitled to enjoy. I hope therefore that there will be no difficulty about this.

The principle for making a retrospective order of this kind has already been approved by your Lordships, certainly in three cases: the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Customs Co-operation Council and the International Wheat Commission. All those bodies have this type of retrospective exemption from income tax. Your Lordships are therefore not being asked in any way to recognise an innovation. I do not propose to go through these Orders in detail, since they contain nothing with which your Lordships are not well familiar from previous practice. I beg to move the first Order.

Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation) Order, 1955, be made in the form of the draft laid before Parliament, and reported from the Special Orders Committee on Tuesday last.—(The Marquess of Reading.)

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Marquess, in his opening remarks, anticipated that these Orders would not be accepted with complete enthusiasm, and I assure him that that is the case. We have been accustomed to a series of Orders extending immunity further and further, and these four Orders also, in varying degrees, extend immunity to an increasing extent to persons who come here to reside, either permanently or temporarily. All noble Lords realise that each one of these arrangements is reciprocal, so far as that is possible, but the third Order, conferring corporate status, cannot be reciprocal. The apprehension that we feel, and which I believe is felt in another place, is that it is no satisfaction to people who are injured, or who suffer damage or loss by the act of a diplomat having this immunity, that a similar diplomat in another country also has immunity from penalty for his actions.

In another place one honourable Member referred to the fact that a friend of his had a car standing outside an hotel and a grand piano belonging to a diplomat was dropped upon it. How that happened I do not know, but it completely destroyed the car. That diplomat is immune and is not obliged to pay damages. It is no satisfaction to the honourable Member's friend that a British diplomat is entitled to drop a piano on a car in some other capital city. It is upon that point that considerable apprehension is felt. The noble Marquess will realise that considerable suffering may be caused to an individual who finds himself without any remedy. The general public are not, I suppose, deeply concerned at the fact that there is diplomatic privilege as regards payment of income tax, the bringing in of articles without payment of Customs duties and other things. What the general public are worried about is that there is in this country an increasing number of people who can go round inflicting damage upon members of the public without the public having any remedy whatever.

While we do not propose to seek to reject these Orders, or to place any difficulties in the way of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, in regard to them, I feel that the time is rapidly approaching when this matter ought to be thoroughly examined. If we are to confer diplomatic immunity upon individual diplomats or quasi-diplomats, ought we not somehow to make some arrangement by which an innocent member of the public is not damnified by being left without any remedy should he suffer injury at the hands of one of those people? Could there not be, for instance (and here is a possibility of further international co-operation) some kind of common pool from which injured members of the public could obtain compensation? Or, if the individual diplomat were exempt, would it not be possible to obtain satisfaction from his Government or the parent body which he represents? I know that the noble Marquess is not in a position to answer this point to-day, but he was perfectly right in anticipating that these Orders would not be received with complete encouragement, and I am trying to give the reasons why that is so. The general public are not opposed to international organisations; we welcome their increasing number, but we are apprehensive when more and more people are allowed in this country to inflict damage on individual citizens without those citizens having any right to obtain redress for injury done to them.

I should like to ask the noble Marquess one question in regard to the conferment of corporate status under one of these Orders. Does that have the normal effect of the grant of corporate status on a body—that is to say, that they can sue and be sued, and can possess property as a corporate body? Or are they also exempt, as a corporate body, from being sued, yet can themselves sue? I should be interested to know the legal interpretation here of the grant of corporate status. I hope that these remarks—I know that they are becoming traditional on the occasion of the submission of an Order of this kind—will be seriously considered, because I can assure the noble Marquess that there is growing apprehension in this country about the number of people who are, so to speak, above the law.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support what has been said on the fact that there is concern over these extensions of special privileges. I do not want to go into the details of these Orders, but I think there is a case for confining these special privileges to general international organisations such as the United Nations whose representatives may claim something like ambassadorial status. When we get extensions of privilege to advisers and technical experts of what is really a regional committee we are departing quite a long way from the original intention of diplomatic privilege. As to this third Order, to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred and which the noble Marquess said conferred only corporate status, I, too, was not clear what the Order meant. It refers to Part I of the Schedule to the Act of 1950, and that Part I goes beyond the mere conferment of corporate status.

I feel that it is again rather a different matter when diplomatic privilege is conferred upon regional inter-Governmental organisations such as the Western European Union. I think there is a particular objection to this practice, because it does militate, or will militate, against movement for political federation by creating vested interests in what many of us regard as merely a temporary set-up in international development. It is a new development when associate members of the World Health Organisation are granted the special privileges. We are told that it will apply only to eight representatives. It may start with eight, but I have no doubt that it will very soon be eighteen.

I do not see why these territories should not be covered by being included in the national organisations, and why the national organisations should not take responsibility for the conduct of their representatives. I do not like this sort of development because it may undermine our own set-up, or what should be our own set-up, in dealing with our colonial territories. If Tunisia is to be specially represented, why not the Gold Coast or Cyprus? I think we have, among ourselves and between this country and our colonial territories, to make up our minds what we desire to do in these international organisations, and to work together. I think that this matter is of sufficient importance to suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has done, that there should be a review. Perhaps the proper method would be to appoint a Select Committee to review this whole question, and when the Committee has reported its Report might provide a basis for international discussion, for this is obviously a matter which can be altered and revised only by international agreement.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lords who have spoken on this Order have taken points which they were quite fully entitled to take, and which, I may say, I somewhat expected them to take on the introduction of matters of this kind to your Lordships' House. I realise that the House becomes somewhat uneasy at the number of these Orders which come forward. I was trying, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, spoke, to think of a case in which, as a result of some person being clothed with diplomatic immunity under one of these particular international bodies' immunities and privileges, a citizen of the United Kingdom had been in any way damnified; but I was unable, on the spur of the moment, to recall any such case. I think, also, that one has to bear in mind—though I do not suggest that this is a complete answer—that it is always open to the diplomat to waive diplomatic privilege; and in a good many cases that has been done. Waving a grand piano is a somewhat different matter, and although one may envy the particular diplomat the physical strength which enabled him to cast this object from the window of the hotel, I agree that it had unfortunate repercussions on the motor car which was standing underneath.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked me about the position of the Commission for Technical Co-operation in Africa. The position, as I understand it, is this. The first section of this draft Order says that Her Majesty may, by Order in Council, provide various things, including immunities and privileges, and may also provide that any organisation to which the section applies shall have the legal capacities of a body corporate. That is only saying what, under the Statute, may be done. What is sought to be done under this Order is not that any immunities and privileges shall be accorded to anyone, but merely that the Commission shall have the legal capacities of a body corporate. As I understand it, an organisation which is granted corporate capacity in this way may both sue and be sued in that capacity, and is given no immunity of any kind from suit. I hope that that answers the question which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, put to me.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Marquess would mind my putting one question, arising out of the statement he has made. I am not sure that I followed him correctly when he said that he did not know of a single person in the United Kingdom who had suffered injury as the result of diplomatic immunity. Does he mean that diplomats never run people over in cars, and never have an accident of any kind? Do they always pay their debts? I have information of cases where they have not done so.


I did not say that no such case had ever taken place. I think I was rather careful to explain what I was confining myself to. I said that when the noble Lord was expatiating on the dangers run by the public in this country, I could not, on the spur of the moment (I used those words), think of a case in which a citizen of this country had, in fact, been damnified in that way. The noble Lord may be unfortunate, or fortunate, in being able to recollect cases of the kind.

As regards other points that were raised, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, suggested that if the Western European Union were given any sort of privileges and immunities it would establish a vested interest which at some stage would impede the elaboration of what he regarded as a temporary expedient into a more permanent system. I should have thought, if I may respectfully say so to the noble Lord, that that was a very long-range reflection: what we have to do at the moment is to deal with the situations which actually confront us. He also said, in relation to the World Health Organisation, that the associate countries should surely be looked after by what I may call for this purpose their parent countries, who ought to be responsible for their conduct. It is not quite a question of being responsible for their conduct; it is a question of giving representatives of these countries certain facilities for carrying on their work. These privileges are not given in order to give licence to people to behave badly—at least that is not the intention. This is done in order to give them every opportunity to carry out their official duties without undue interference. I think that from that point of view, they are of value. What I ought to have said at the beginning is that the headquarters of these three bodies, the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, the African body and the Western European Union, will all be in this country. The headquarters of the World Health Organisation is in Geneva, but the other three will be in this country. Therefore, it has an importance that we should give proper treatment to representatives of other countries associated with us in these bodies who come to this country in connection with the establishment of these headquarters, and carry on their work in this country, consequently ensuring in these cases and in others that our representatives obtain adequate treatment on the same scale abroad.

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.