HL Deb 15 December 1964 vol 262 cc361-6

My Lords, this Order in Council in no way provides for any extension of immunities or privileges. What it does is to implement the original intention of Parliament. It seeks to remove a fortuitous disqualification which may be suffered by certain people who may be posted to High Commissioners' Offices in London.

Under the Diplomatic Privileges Act any persons covered by this Act who are citizens of this country are either excluded from the enjoyment of immunities and privileges to which they would otherwise be entitled or have their immunities and privileges restricted; that is to say, if they are citizens of this country and are working in High Commissioners' Offices, or are themselves High Commissioner;;. A large number of people in the Commonwealth have dual citizenship; they are, for instance, both Australian and United Kingdom citizens. If any of these should be posted to London they would not, unless this Order in Council is approved, be able to enjoy the privileges and immunities which Parliament has decided would be appropriate to those serving in their position in a diplomatic mission.

The people with whom we are concerned are primarily nationals of the sending Commonwealth country. It is fortuitous that they are also United Kingdom citizens, and it would clearly not be right to equate them with people who are primarily nationals of this country in such a way as to deprive them on this account of their appropriate immunities and privileges. The extreme case one may take is an Australian gentleman whose father emigrated to Australia, or was taken there as an infant, who thereby has both Australian and British citizenship and if he were appointed a High Commissioner, or to work in a High Commissioners' office in this country would, because of his dual nationality, lose his diplomatic immunities. That is all this Order is doing, putting right this anomaly. It was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he moved the Second Reading of the Diplomatic Privileges Bill on May 11, 1964, that it was not intended that Commonwealth dual citizens should be penalised in this way. It was suggested at the time that it would be convenient to redress what is, in effect, an anomaly in the Act by means of a subsequent Order in Council. That is all this Order before your Lordships seeks to do. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) Order, 1964, laid before the House on 24th November, 1964, be approved.—{Lord Taylor.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for the explanation he has given of this Order, but I notice that the Second Report from the Special Orders Committee of the House of Lords reads as follows: The Committee have examined the Order as required by the Standing Orders of the House and report:— That in their opinion the provisions of the Order raise important questions of policy and principle. That the Order is not founded on precedent: That in the opinion of the Committee the Order cannot be passed by the House without special attention. I should have thought, with respect, that in view of that Report of the Special Orders Committee of your Lordships' House, the Government owe your Lordships some sort of explanation, and I do not think that we should let this Order go through unless we hear either from the Government or from the Lord Chairman of Committees exactly what the Committee had in mind when they made that Report.


My Lords, I was trying to give just that explanation. I confess that I did not mention the discussions of the Special Orders Committee, although I have read the full transcript. If I understood the Committee aright, it was not that this Order raised matters of great principle, but that it was unusual. That is as I understood it; but if I am wrong, the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, will doubtless correct me.


It may be as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, understood it, and it may be so; but it is not what the Committee said. They said this Order raises "important questions of policy and principle". I understand perfectly the courteous explanation the noble Lord has given, but it does not seem to me that he has explained at all the words which the Committee used.


With respect, I do not think it is part of my job to explain the words of the Special Orders Committee.


It is somebody's job to explain them, and if it is not the Government's job to defend their own Order, and explain why it should be passed, I do not know whose job it is.


I was defending the Order, not the ruling of the Special Orders Committee.


My Lords, since my name has been mentioned, may I just say this? Standing Orders Relating to Public Business lay down what I may describe as a stereotyped form of Report on these matters which is in two alternate forms. It is the duty of the Special Orders Committee to say either that this Order does raise important matters of policy and principle or that it does not. That is about all the Special Orders Committee can report, and do report, on every single one of these Orders. Our duties are stereotyped and there is little choice open to us. We also have to report whether the Order is or is not founded on precedent, and whether it can or cannot be dealt with without special attention. Your Lordships will therefore see that our choice is quite limited.

In actual practice, we occasionally say that an Order ought to receive special attention. We usually say that it need not. The former course was adopted on this occasion, for several reasons. One of them was that we were aware that this subject is one in which your Lordships are apt to be specially interested. Also, it certainly was not founded on precedent, because this was the first exercise of this particular power—the power to make the Order; and the third part of it follows the first. There is nothing specially significant about the Report in this particular case, except that it falls into that class of Report which is less common than the other class.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the House is most grateful to the Chairman of Committees for what he has said. But I am equally sure that when a Committee of the authority of the Special Orders Committee say in their Report that in the opinion of the Committee the Order cannot be passed by the House without special attention, it would be wrong to ignore that Report, and surely no one can complain that special attention is being drawn in the House to the provisions of the Order. As the Special Orders Committee say, the Order is not founded on precedent. That of itself may be a good reason for special attention. But this Report goes further than that. The Report says that in the opinion of the Committee the provisions of the Order raise important questions of policy and principle.

The noble Lord, in moving that this Order be approved, explained what in fact the Order did; but, listening as attentively as I could to what he said, I found it most difficult to distinguish the matters regarded as matters of principle by the Special Orders Committee. If the noble Lord could have told us what those matters were it might have assisted us in giving due attention and in paying proper regard to the Report of the Special Orders Committee. But, as I recollect it, in the course of his speech the noble Lord made no reference to this Report of the Special Orders Committee. He may take the view that that is not the responsibility of the Government; but I must say that I should have thought that, when a Report of this sort has been made by the Special Orders Committee, the member of Her Majesty's Government who moved that the Order be approved ought to have drawn the attention of the House to the terms of the Order.


My Lords, I should like to make sure what the complaint is, so to speak, if there is complaint from noble Lords opposite. In so far as the explanation given was not full enough, of course it could be fuller; but we were trying to suit the convenience of the House on a busy day. If that was the main complaint, then I can understand it. But I gather that it is not the main complaint. However, I hope that now that the matter has been ventilated the Order may go forward.


My Lords, that really was not the issue. I remember the Bill well because I piloted it through your Lordships' House. It seems to me that what is proposed, and the explanation which was given by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, are absolutely admirable; and clearly it would be undesirable that, merely by reason of the fact that they are United Kingdom citizens, people should be treated worse than anybody else if they work for a Commonwealth Embassy. The point that I was making was that the Special Orders Committee said that in their opinion this Order raised important questions of policy and principle, and I do not know what they are. Perhaps it might make some difference to your Lordships if we knew what they were. What are they?


My Lords, may I ask how the noble Lord who is moving this Motion can possibly know what was in the mind of the Special Orders Committee, beyond what they have chosen to put upon the Paper?


My Lords, I at least know what they said, which perhaps—I do not know—is more than the noble Lord knows. He may have read the transcript, as I have. I read the transcript of the proceedings of the Special Orders Committee most carefully to find, if I could, what was in their minds. As I understood it (the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, will correct me if I am wrong), they said to themselves "The House likes to look most carefully at any extension of diplomatic privilege." In fact, this was not an extension of diplomatic privilege and I think that they perhaps have not quite understood this. The second thing was that it was a novel matter, something new, and there was to precedent for it. I think I have interpreted them correctly in saying that it was the novelty, and that they thought this might be an extension of diplomatic privilege, which was what they were worried about. I tried to explain in my speech that this was not so. If I failed, I am sorry. I have done my best.


My Lords, I am most grateful. I should say that I am not blaming the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, at all; but it seems to me that if a Committee of your Lordships' House say in their Report that an Order raises important questions of policy and principle, really somebody should come down and tell us what those points are. It is most unsatisfactory that we should have a Report from a Committee of your Lordships' House which is not explained, and which to this moment has not been explained.


My Lords, may I say that I believe the Special Orders Committee are strictly bound by the Standing Orders of the House relating to Public Business? They are empowered by these Standing Orders to come to a decision as a jury comes to a decision; but, like a jury, the Special Orders Committee are not empowered to give their reasons. I believe that if in future the House desires the Special Orders Committee to give reasons for their decisions, it will require an amendment to the Standing Orders of the House relating to Public Business.

On Question, Motion agreed to.