HL Deb 15 December 1958 vol 213 cc244-8

2.43 p.m.

THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE rose to move, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the International Sugar Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1958, be made in the form of the Draft laid before this House on the 26th November. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I should like first to apologise to the House for any inconvenience which may have been caused by my inability to present this humble Address last week. I am most grateful that it was made possible for me to do so to-day.

The International Sugar Agreement, 1953, expires at the end of this year, and Her Majesty's Government and the other twenty-seven Governments concerned have concluded a new Agreement which was laid before Parliament on November 20. We hope that it will be possible for this new Agreement to come into force next January. It is almost identical with that at present in force, but has one amendment concerning privileges and immunities; in Article 38 (6) the word "funds", in the original Agreement, is replaced by the words "assets, income and other property." This proposed amendment is reflected in Article 3 of the Order which is now laid before your Lordships. The effect of this change will be to confer upon the Sugar Council a partial exemption from local rates on their London offices, similar to that accorded to the official premises of diplomatic missions. I should emphasise to your Lordships that no new personal privileges or immunities are involved. This small amendment will bring the arrangements for the International Sugar Council into line with those for other commodity councils. I beg to move. Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the International Sugar Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1958, be made in the form of the Draft laid before this House on the 26th November.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side are somewhat handicapped by the short notice that we have had, and by the fact that we have to look at this matter in the light of the explanation which comes along only at this moment. We should like to know whether it is correct that under the present Order which is to come to an end, and which this proposed Order is intended to replace, there was no exemption from local rates—that is that the organisation paid rates in respect of their London offices—and that if this Order is accepted they will not pay rates. I should like to ask, if that is so, what is the reason for making this further concession. Will it he the actual borough in which the offices are situated which suffers; and will the concession apply to any other offices which the organisation may have in the future during the currency of this Order? A further question: is this the only difference between the present Order and that which it supersedes? I understood the noble Marquess to say that was so, but I should like him to confirm it. The real question is whether we are right in assuming that the only difference between the two Orders is this immunity from rates. Would the noble Marquess explain why, if that is so, it is felt necessary to grant this immunity, and state who is to compensate the local authority for the loss of rates involved?


My Lords, I should like to say one word in support of the noble Lord who has just spoken, for I remember that when we debated the earlier Order several of your Lordships expressed grave doubts about the wisdom of giving all these international bodies, diplomatic and otherwise, all these immunities. It seems to me that any suggestion to extend it one degree further, would be a very doubtful and unnecessary thing to do. In view of what was said before, I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government would be very careful about increasing such immunities and privileges. I do not want to say anything more, but I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in what he has said.

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the difference I have mentioned is the only difference of any substance at all between this and the previous Agreement. As regards the details of this partial exemption—and it is only partial: it is not a complete exemption—from rates, what happens is that Her Majesty's Government pay to the local authority the amount of the local rates leviable on these premises and then reclaim from the Sugar Council that proportion (which in fact amounts to between one-fourth and one-third) of the rates assigned to municipal services from which the organisation is considered to derive direct benefit. That sounds rather complicated, but the kind of services involved are street lighting, removal of garbage, and so on, which can be deemed to be directly benefiting these premises: the Sugar Council continues to pay those rates. On the two-thirds, three-quarters or thereabouts—the balance—there will be an exemption.


My Lords, does that mean a loss to the local authority?


My Lords, that would be a loss to the Government, because the Government handle this transaction. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked why we were doing this at all. The reason is simply to bring this Council into line with other similar Councils. The International Wheat Council already enjoys the same immunity, and so does the International Tin Council.

As regards the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, I can assure him that we are not extending immunities and privileges. The Government are well aware that it is undesirable to extend privileges and immunities; and I can assure the noble Lord that privileges and immunities enjoyed by this Council are less than those enjoyed by others, except bodies such as those I have just mentioned—namely, the Wheat and the Tin Councils. So I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured on that point.


My Lords, I am much obliged for that answer and it carries us on a good deal in what had been in our minds. I say that at once. On the other hand, I am a little intrigued as to how it fits in with the second paragraph in the explanatory note at the back of the Order. It says: The only amendment to the provisions of the Order … takes account of the amendment to Article 38 (6) to the Agreement by which the Council is to enjoy exemption from taxation upon its 'assets, income and other property' instead of only upon its 'funds'. That rather makes me want to search and find out what is the difference between these two interpretations—assets, income and other property. Is there, in fact, income accruing to the International Sugar Corporation from its stay in this country, its operation in this country, which would normally be subject to income tax; or was that formerly taxed by inclusion in the funds? Because here is a very subtle difference in the actual wording of the interpretation and I should like to know that in fact there is going to be no change on that point. It seems to me that there is a change.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. His difficulty was shared by a very distinguished legal mind in another place. But I can assure him that, by some strange mysterious means which is quite beyond my comprehension, what I have explained to the noble Lord is in fact the truth and there is nothing mysterious whatsoever behind it.


It seems an impossibility.

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