HL Deb 25 April 1961 vol 230 cc768-80

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is possible that some of the criticisms that have been made by your Lordships about the previous Order might be applied to this second Order. I myself have no anxieties about this Order. I should like to present it to your Lordships to-day and I hope you will be able to give it your sympathetic approval. I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1961, be made in the form of the Draft laid before this House on March 27 last.

This draft Order is necessary to enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the Convention establishing the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development signed at Paris on December 14, 1960. When the Convention comes into force, O.E.C.D. will be set up and will replace the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. The O.E.C.D. will in fact be the O.E.E.C. remodelled to meet the tasks of the 1960s.

The United States and Canada will join the eighteen Western European O.E.E.C. countries as full members of the new organisation. The aims of the O.E.C.D. will be to promote policies designed to achieve the highest sustainable economic growth and employment in the member countries, to contribute to sound economic expansion in member and non-member countries in the process of economic development and to contribute to the expansion of world trade on a multilateral non-discriminatory basis. Co-operation and consultation between member Governments will lie at the heart of the work of O.E.C.D., as in its predecessor O.E.E.C.

Supplementary Protocol No. 2 of the O.E.C.D. Convention of 1960 provides for the same privileges and immunities to be accorded in the United Kingdom as were contained in Supplementary Protocol No. 1 of the O.E.E.C. Convention of 1948. Her Majesty's Government are not, therefore, asked to extend more privileges and immunities for O.E.C.D. than were required for O.E.E.C. The O.E.C.D., like O.E.E.C., will have its headquarters in Paris. All its meetings will normally be held there. The present O.E.E.C. has a staff of 931, of whom 178 are British nationals. The numbers are expected to remain about the same when O.E.E.C. becomes O.E.C.D. The O.E.E.C. has only very rarely held any meetings in London. We expect that this will also be the case for O.E.C.D. So far as we can foresee, no O.E.C.D. staff will be stationed in this country. No O.E.E.C. staff are resident in the United Kingdom at the present time.

The Secretary-General and the senior officials of the Organisation will have to pay short visits to this country from time to time on official business. I would not expect that more than five or six officials of the Organisation would be here at any one time—normally they will be in Paris. All this means that only a few people at a time will enjoy the privileges and immunities under this Order in the United Kingdom, and that only at infrequent intervals. The draft Order confers privileges and immunities no greater in extent than those required by the Protocol to the O.E.C.D. Convention or those authorised by the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950. It revokes and will replace the existing Order referring to O.E.E.C. The immunities to be enjoyed under it by the Organisation itself do not differ from those enjoyed under existing Orders by most other international organisations to which we belong. Of the international staff only the three higher officials—that is to say, the Secretary-General and his two deputies—will enjoy a diplomatic scale of privileges and immunities.

Although the Protocol did not require it, the 1949 O.E.E.C. Order did confer a diplomatic scale of privileges and immunities on the families of the Deputy Secretaries-General. This will not be the case in the new Order. The remainder of the staff will enjoy immunity from suit and legal process only in respect of their official duties and exemption from income tax on the emoluments they receive from the Organisation—that is to say, they will enjoy no more than the necessary immunity to do their jobs as international officials without interference from national authorities. This is normal in all international organisations. Exemption from taxation is also normal in international organisations, because otherwise the member countries who share the cost of the salaries would be contributing in taxes to the Exchequer of the host Government. The Order specifies that only established members of the Organisation's staff will get the privileges and immunities.

Expert advisers employed on missions for the Organisation other than regular staff will enjoy the immunity from jurisdiction in respect of official acts and from personal arrest or detention and seizure of their baggage. These are the normal immunities accorded to such people. Such expert advisers have only occasionally been employed by O.E.E.C. and we should expect that visits to this country by persons in this category employed by the new O.E.C.D. would be equally rare. Representatives of member Governments with the principal and subsidiary organs of O.E.C.D.—that is to say, the Council and its various committees—will enjoy a diplomatic scale of privileges and immunities. As O.E.C.D. meetings would normally take place in Paris, this section of the Order will apply only occasionally. On the other hand, the permanent United Kingdom delegation to the O.E.C.D. in Paris will benefit from the relevant provisions of the Protocol. My Lords, as I have tried to explain, this is very similar to what was granted in respect of O.E.E.C. and is applied only to the proposed new Organisation, the O.E.C.D. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1961, be made in the form of the Draft laid before this House on March 27th last.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I must say that these various initials that we are increasingly throwing about in international affairs become a little confusing, but one does ones best to follow them. This reminds me of a little doggerel that we had in the Labour Movement when we were very young, which I cannot fully remember, but of which I know part. It said They tell this tale in the I.L.P. And the S.D.F. says it's true"— and the something, and something and something— the W.S.P.U. We really need a modern edition of this doggerel to describe these various international organisations.

I must say that I was surprised at the action taken by the noble Marquess in regard to this Order. He was good enough—and we greatly appreciate his action—to say at the end of the discussion on the previous Order that he would agree that it should be deferred. In the circumstances, I must say that I should have thought that he would not have moved this second Order, because now we are wasting time. If he defers the first Order, then I should have thought it was logical and courteous to the House that he should not come forward and move the second Order, which is substantially to the same effect. I would urge upon the noble Marquess, whose courtesy I appreciate very much in relation to the first Order, that, having had his say, he might now consent to the deferment also of this Order—of course without prejudice to the views of Her Majesty's Government after consideration of the debate which your Lordships have had. I hope that the noble Marquess will agree that the consideration of this Order might be deferred.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, surely This Order is entirely different from the first, and in regard to the principle on which objection was made. It seems to me—I will try not to use alphabetical terms, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, does not like them—that the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation is ceasing because it has been re-formed or redeveloped with certain changes, and has added to its numbers Canada and the United States. Therefore it has become the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—we have added the "D". It is the same Organisation extended. Therefore, it seems to me that this Order differs entirely from the other one, because here you are simply saying that you wish to carry on what you have already agreed to, but you have taken off one letter and you have put on a "D", and you have brought in America and Canada as full members of the Organisation.

I see the difference in the last Order. There, reference was made to a new Organisation. Certainly, I have been in favour for some time of examining as a whole the various Organisations in regard to which there is diplomatic immunity, because it is extremely hard on a new and good organisation if, just because already there are so many existing organisations, it cannot get certain privileges. I would have said a word in favour of E.F.T.A., but I quite see that that is an addition. It seems to me that this Order is entirely different. Here, we are simply renaming and slightly altering an Organisation that already has these privileges. I think all of us who are interested in this Organisation and wish to bring it into existence as soon as we possibly can, want to see this change ratified as soon as possible, because we feel that it is not only for the good of European co-operation but also is extending beyond that. I hope that, because this is a different Order, it will be agreed to.


My Lords, may I endorse what the noble Lady has said, and say that I think this is quite different from the other Order which we hope to have explained later on. This is something that we have passed before for this Organisation, and I really think that we can pass it this time.


My Lords, as one who has been associated with O.E.E.C. for a long time, and familiar with the negotiations leading up to its organisation, I entirely agree with the noble Lady in distinguishing between these two Orders.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, would the noble Marquess explain a little further one point which he made—namely, that exemption from taxation is necessary, otherwise the Governments represented in one of these Organisations would be paying the taxation due to the Government of the member country in which the Organisation is located? Surely liability for taxation is the liability of the individuals employed; it is not a liability of the Government which appoints them. Therefore, if this exemption is given, is it the case that the salaries of the individuals employed, and who enjoy this immunity from taxation, are fixed in the light of that—in other words, are at a lower rate than they would be if these individuals were liable to taxation, because they are apparently not liable to taxation either in this country or in the country in which they serve?

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, has said, I should like to make it perfectly clear that nothing I have said, and I am sure nothing anyone else on these Benches has said, is in any way in opposition to the principle of O.E.E.C. or O.E.C.D. Any objections that have been raised have been merely to the machinery. I hope that that is absolutely clear.

There is just one point on this particular Order that I would put to the noble Marquess. In moving the earlier Order he said, I believe, that some 50 persons would be involved. The present staff of O.E.E.C. numbers 931, of whom 178 are British. Thus nearly 1,000 persons will get full immunity. That is no mean number. I should have thought that for that reason alone—and also because at least the broad principles of the full immunities and partial immunities which have been given under these two Orders are very much alike—as the noble Marquess has graciously agreed to take back the other Order and look at it again, the noble Marquess should look at this Order, too, and after consideration, give the House a somewhat fuller explanation than he has been able to give this afternoon.


My Lords, at the risk of being accused of levity, perhaps I may inform the House that while "I never use a big, big D", if I did I should be tempted to use it on this occasion.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, with great respect, I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lord and other noble Lords who have supported this as against the other Order, apparently on the ground (and it is common ground with all of us—and I would say that emphatically) that its predecessor has a very good name; that we like it very much, and wish to see it continue and carry on its good work. But that is not really the point at issue.


My Lords, I think the names of both organisations are appalling. I do not like the names at all, but I think the organisations are good. If it is the same organisation that is to continue, we hope improved. I suggest that we should no on with the same scheme of immunity.


My Lords, the noble Lady has misunderstood me. I never mentioned the merits or demerits. My point was that which the noble Lady has repeated. She wishes to give these immunities to employees of an organisation which we all know and honour, and for whose work we have a great deal of admiration; but that is not really the point. What most of the noble Lords who resisted the last Order were concerned about was the giving of immunities which might have the result that citizens of this country, British subjects, might find themselves in a position where they could receive no compensation for damage inflicted by members of these organisations who were enjoying such immunities.

That, of course, is a common state of affairs under ordinary diplomatic immunity. I have always understood that in those cases, whilst the matter did not Came to count, an ex gratia payment is commonly made by the Government of the person who has caused the damage. To my way of thinking these Orders are rather alarming, for this reason: there is no parent Government who could make an ex gratia payment to anybody suffering damage. I should like very much to know —and perhaps the noble Marquess can tell us—what would happen in a case of this kind. Supposing somebody suffers a serious damage from an officer of one of these agencies who enjoys special immunity, can that person make a claim, or would the parent organisation, or the employing organisation if I may call it that, be prepared to make some contribution towards the damage suffered?

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, for explaining to your Lordships with greater clarity than I could have commanded the relationship between this Order and that which applied to the previous organisation, O.E.E.C. As I drew to your Lordships' attention, this Order —succeeding the arrangements that were necessary for the O.E.E.C.—has one small difference, in that there is a reduction in the privileges and immunities. Those are now withdrawn from families. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, will not consider that these two Orders which I have presented to your Lordships fall into the same category. This later one is simply succeeding that which went before, although I can quite see, as I said initially, that the criticisms and anxieties of your Lordships have a general application to all these Orders; of that I am fully aware. But I hope your Lordships will approve this second Order.


My Lords, the noble Marquess has not dealt with the interesting point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon.


My Lords, I apologise. It is a point into which I am afraid I shall have to go further. I am not now in a position to give a full reply which would satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon.


Then defer it.


If I may, I would rather give a full and proper reply than give an inadequate answer now. Perhaps the noble Lord will agree that I should go into this matter and reply to him fully.


My Lords, the noble Marquess is not in a position to deal with the rather substantial and important point raised by my noble friend Lord Faringdon, with which he says he will deal on some future occasion. But it is relevant to this Order. Is that not an additional reason why the noble Marquess should do with this Order what he did with the previous one—namely defer it? Nothing will be lost, and Her Majesty's Government have time to look further into it; and the noble Marquess can give a considered reply to my noble friend before a decision is taken, later, on the Order.


My Lords, with great respect, I quite see that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, is one of interest, but I do not think it affects what I have already said: that this Order is simply the replacement necessary for the O.E.C.D. I do not feel that the point should make your Lordships consider it necessary to delay the passing of this Order. I hope you will not take that action.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, speaking in support of Her Majesty's Government on the present Motion, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, with respect, that this is not an entirely new point. I think that the noble Lord Is very optimistic in assuming that where diplomatic immunity applies it is the practice of the Government whose servant claims diplomatic immunity to make an ex gratia payment. I am not aware of any such custom, and I am certainly aware of many cases where that has not been done.

There is also an example—and this I would mention very particularly, in view of the line taken, somewhat belatedly, by the Opposition in your Lordships' House to-day, although we very much welcome that line. That was not the line they took when they sought, and sought successfully, when they were in power, to obtain diplomatic immunity for the International Postal Union. I hope that I am remembering the name of the organisation correctly. That was a body which had functioned quite happily for very many years without any such immunity. Nevertheless, by an Act of the Labour Government immunity was conferred upon that body. The reason why I believe Her Majesty's Government should be supported on this occasion—and we shall have the opportunity of developing our main arguments on these matters in the postponed debate —is that it will be observed that this particular Order is required to enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify a Convention. I do not believe that there is anybody in this House, in any quarter, who desires that the ratification of the Convention should be unnecessarily delayed; and for that reason, if for no other, I suggest that this Order should now be approved.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that that intervention is really helpful to Her Majesty's Government. The noble Marquess said on the earlier Order that he knew of no case where diplomatic privilege had been used to resist a claim. I did not want to prolong the argument, but I do know of cases. However, I was hoping that, since we deferred the matter, we should be given a fuller explanation of that point. But if the answer is what the noble Lord says it is, that in every case an ex-gratia payment is made where there is a claim—


He did not say that.


I said precisely the opposite.


If that is the case, I am bound to say that the British subject who is injured is at a very great disadvantage. After all, an ex-gratia payment is something given, not in order to meet a claim in full, but, having regard to the fact that the maker of the payment is not liable in law to meet the claimant. The British claimant who knows that he has no case in law is obliged to accept something less than he is entitled to. That is the significance of an ex-gratia payment. If that is the position, the subject is at a great disadvantage. There still arises the question which was put by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, and to which we should be glad to have an answer—namely, is there any way by which a British subject who suffers injury at the hands of somebody who has diplomatic privilege can be compensated by the Government itself for injury done to him if he cannot recover from the person who has the immunity? I myself should be quite willing to let this Order go, on the assurance that we shall have all these matters more fully explained to us. But I am bound to say that the answer given by the noble Lord was not at all helpful, and rather made me doubtful whether we ought to pass this Order at all.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I think perhaps I ought to do what I can in this situation. Surely there are two or three separate issues here. The first question, which all of us who practise in the Common Law Courts recognise, is that to confer diplomatic immunity on anybody, from the Ambassador downwards, may, at any rate in theory, and therefore sooner or later probably will in practice, give rise to a juridical problem, and perhaps to injustice. That is quite clear. Of course, we all know—we have all had experience of this., whether we have served in Parliament, as the noble Lord who has just spoken has, or whether we have practised as a I solicitor for many years, or practised at the Bar for many years—that since the war, particularly (though I think the process had begun before the war), diplomatic immunity of one kind or another has been conferred not only upon the accredited representatives of sovereign States but upon a great number of other people.

I think that Parliament, certainly in my experience (and I am probably speaking also for noble Lords who have sat here for much longer than I have), in one House of Parliament or another, has again and again expressed its anxiety both about the extent of privileges given and about the number of organisations on which privilege should be conferred. The gradual increase of the number of diplomatically privileged persons has, quite rightly, been made the subject of debate.

In the previous case I came in only towards the end of the debate, but I heard more or less what was going on. And I had heard it on other occasions, when the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was in the Government and I was in another place, or what was technically another place. At any rate, we had a new organisation with a new set of privileges. I agree with my noble friend behind me that this is quite a different case from the present Order, which really replaces an old Order and is necessary, as my noble friend Lord Conesford reminded us—absolutely necessary—for the Government before we can give our ratification to an instrument which I am perfectly confident the whole House would desire us to give our ratification to.

I am perfectly well aware—no one more so—that the general question—that is to say, the question of whether diplomatic privilege ought to be as extensive as it is—is one which fully merits the attention of Parliament and Government and, indeed, international discussion. There are important juridical issues. What I would think, though, with respect to noble Lords who have spoken, and what I would ask them to consider, is this. To refuse to allow this particular Order, which is necessary for a particular purpose, is not perhaps the best way of ventilating the general issue. It has come to light and it is bound to receive further discussion, if only when the E.F.T.A. Order comes up again. It may deserve a more general discussion, in which case we can have that. But I would ask the House to pass this Order to-day, for the reason given by my noble friend.

Moreover, I would ask the house to remember how, in deciding the extent of diplomatic immunities, Her Majesty's Government are up against a problem which they have to face from time to time and which all British Governments have to face—namely, that these Orders are international in scope and have to be negotiated universally on the basis of a good deal of trading and compromise. Particularly in juridical matters, we represent a system of law which, though it is very common in other continents of the world, in Europe is rather one peculiar to this island; and sometimes our own judicial conceptions do not fit in very well to what European Powers wish. Therefore, I would ask the House to pass this Order, and I certainly give them my own assurance, on behalf of my noble friend, that he will come briefed to deal with the general issues, if need be, when the E.F.T.A. Order comes up again.

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