HL Deb 20 May 1958 vol 209 cc442-5

2.45 p.m.

THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE EARL OF GOSFORD) rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges of the Council of Europe) (Amendment) Order in Council, 1958, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on the 15th of April last. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion for an humble Address to Her Majesty standing in my name on the Order Paper. This Order was considered by the Special Orders Committee of your Lordships' House on April 30.

The purpose of this draft Order is to confer upon the members of the European Commission of Human Rights, an organ of the Council of Europe, certain immunities in connection with their official duties. I would point out to your Lordships that these immunities are very similar to those already accorded to representatives of member Governments to the Committee of Ministers under Article 7 (ii) of the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges of the Council of Europe) Order, 1950 (as subsequently amended), which is already in force. Furthermore, there is nothing in the present draft Order which exempts the members of the Commission from the ordinary processes of the law except in respect of matters relating to the performance of their official functions or during the period when they are exercising those functions. In according such immunities there is no question of exceeding the immunities previously granted in respect of representatives to or members of certain organs and committees of other major international organisations.

Your Lordships no doubt realise that we have an obligation to confer these immunities under Article 59 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which lays down that the members of the Commission shall, during the discharge of their functions, be entitled to the privileges and immunities provided for in Article 40 of the Statute of the Council of Europe and in the Agreements made thereunder. The Convention was ratified by Her Majesty's Government on March 8, 1951. The privileges and immunities to be accorded to the European Commission of Human Rights were subsequently specified in the Second Protocol to the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe which was signed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and entered into force on December 15, 1956. The draft Order now submitted will enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the Second Protocol.

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side are prepared to support the Motion which the noble Earl has just submitted. As he and noble Lords will remember, on many occasions from this side of the House, and particularly when the Opposition was led by the late Lord Jowitt, we questioned the extension from time to time of these diplomatic privileges and immunities. But, as I understand the noble Earl's statement, what is really happening here is a slight extension of an existing Order which applies to the Council of Europe: it is to be extended to members of the Human Rights Commission but will not confer any privileges at all on the staff of members of the Human Rights Commission. It is one of those extensions of which we approve. We think it perfectly right that the Order should be extended to include the Human Rights Commission, and we are glad to support the noble Earl's Motion.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has given only a qualified blessing to this proposal. I agree that we have to do it, because, apparently, we are bound by Convention to do so, and I suppose it is too late to take any exception to this particular proposal. But every time we assent to these new diplomatic immunities we are driving a coach-and-four through what has hitherto, for generations, been the practice with regard to diplomatic immunity. Diplomatic immunity used only to extend to ambassadors, who in those days were a limited class. Many of us have gone abroad to international conferences and conventions. We never enjoyed, nor sought, diplomatic immunity. The Postal Convention went on for a century. Ministers of different countries and the senior civil servants, too, used to go to other countries and come here. They never sought or enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

It is said that this immunity will apply only when these people are in this country discharging their functions. Of course it will not apply at any other time: it does not give them diplomatic immunity anywhere and everywhere for life. But I feel that we ought to see whether we cannot limit these privileges because it is when these people are in residence in a particular country, in the discharge of their duties, that they are granted. I am told that this Order relates to human rights. But one of the elementary human rights that used to exist under the law and comity of nations, and certainly in this country, was that it was the human right of the citizen to be free to go to the courts if he was damnified by anybody. Although I should not have liked this Order to pass sub silentio, I suppose we have to agree to it. But I feel that some protest should be made, whenever we have to do this, in order to see whether we can dam the flow of this ever-increasing flood of immunities to all sorts and conditions of people who come on the oddest possible occasions.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, rightly reminded the House of the opposition to the indefinite extension of these rights expressed by the late noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. I should also like to remind the House of the very strenuous opposition raised by members of my own Party, when they were in Opposition in another place, throughout the Parliament of 1945 to 1950, when most of these unwarranted extensions of privilege were granted. At that time we did not get much support from the Party now so ably represented by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson; but, having said that, I would agree with Her Majesty's Government that there is no great objection to the particular Order for which to-day they are seeking support.


My Lords, in view of what my noble friend Lord Swinton has said on this subject, I would ask: is there any information as to the exact treatment that we have in other countries in the circumstances of this Motion?—because I believe that this is really a question on which there should be tit-for-tat: what other people do to us, we should do to them. If possible, I should like to know at some time, when the information is available.


My Lords, I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, that he is perfectly right, and that this is a question of tit-for-tat.

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