HL Deb 08 June 1964 vol 258 cc674-84

2.56 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD AIREDALE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Application of Vienna Convention]:

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?


As Clause 2 puts into operation Schedule 1, I wonder whether it would be convenient for me to raise with my noble friend at this stage the meaning of some of the provisions of Clause 1 or whether I should wat until we reach the Schedules.


So far as I am concerned, this would be a very convenient moment.


We discussed on the Second Reading of the Bill a number of matters, two of which, in particular, I raised with my noble friend, and I should like now to have a fuller explanation. The first, which I think is perhaps the simpler, is the question of whether this Convention and this Act will apply exclusively to foreign diplomats. There are a number of international bodies with officials in London who enjoy diplomatic privileges and we had been under the impression that they would be included within the scope of this Bill. But my noble friend the Leader of the House said in his second speech that the Bill did not apply to the representatives of international bodies and applied only to foreign diplomats. I should be very dad if he would elaborate that point further, so that we may know what will be the position in future of officials of international bodies with offices in London who, as I understand it, under the present legislation do enjoy diplomatic privileges.

The second point on which I should be grateful for an explanation is exactly who are, in the case of a typical foreign Mission, the different categories of people concerned. There are, first (and I am now referring to the categories in the Schedule in Article 1), those described as "members of the diplomatic staff". Is one to take it that those are only the fairly high officials? Then there are "members of the administrative and technical staff" and my noble friend referred to the latter as being secretaries and people of that type. I think it is rather important to know, in view of the different rights applying to the diplomatic staff and to the administrative and technical staff, exactly where the line is going to be drawn. I do not think there is any difficulty about the third category, that of private servants.

The second part of this question is: what exactly is the meaning of the expression "the course of their duties"? I put the question on the previous occasion. if a chauffeur employed by a diplomatic agent is driving his master's car and has an accident when, in point of fact, he is driving to the seaside at a week-end for his own amusement, will he be deemed to be acting "within the course of" his employment? If we could have an indication of the answer to that point I think it would be of great value.


My noble friend was good enough to let me know he was going to raise these two points, and I am much obliged to him. With regard to the first point I shall try to explain this in a little detail if the Committee will forgive me. The question of immunities and privileges enjoyed in the United Kingdom by international organisations and persons connected with them has no relevance to the Diplomatic Privileges Bill—that is, the present Bill, which is concerned solely with the treatment of the resident diplomatic representatives of foreign and Commonwealth States and their staffs.

The grant of immunities and privileges to international organisations is covered by the provisions of the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950, which have been applied by Order in Council to individual organisations to the extent necessary to enable the United Kingdom to discharge its obligations as a party to the international agreements under which they have been established. I have a list of all those organisations, but I regret to say it is rather long and I would rather not read it out unless noble Lords insist. Perhaps I could send my noble friend a copy of it afterwards.


My Lords, perhaps it could be included in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


I will if I can. I am not quite sure if it is allowed, but I will certainly do it if I can.

Here I think my noble friend was a little misled. The degree of immunity conferred by the various Orders varies very widely. For example the C.C.T.A. is given only the legal capacity of a body corporate, and Commodity Councils, such as the Tin, Wheat, Sugar and Coffee Councils, enjoy certain fiscal privileges only. The number of persons connected with the international organisations qualifying for privileges and immunities in varying degrees is 241, but only four of them—that is to say, the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General of the W.E.U., the Secretary-General of the international Maritime Consultative Organisation and the Chief Representative of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community—are entitled to the same degree of immunity from suit and legal process as is accorded to the envoy of a foreign Power accredited to Her Majesty. So they vary greatly in the amount of immunity which they have.

My noble friend then asked me how the various categories were going to be divided. I cannot give him a specific answer to that, though I think I gave him last time some sort of indication as to how they would be arranged. For instance it is perfectly obvious that what one might call the diplomats on the staff will be in the first category, while secretaries and so on will not. But in all these cases there is a borderline, and we have not yet drawn up our plans and instructions. Therefore at this stage I cannot tell my noble friend exactly where the line will be drawn.

The last question which my noble friend asked was about the phrase "in the course of his duties". Clearly, the ambassador's chauffeur who is driving his ambassador to a meeting at the Foreign Office is acting in the course of his duties. Equally clearly, if he is driving his own family to Brighton he is not driving in the course of his duties. But between these two examples there are obviously borderline cases. Any phrase which draws this kind of distinction always gives rise to cases where one cannot say with absolute certainty which way the court would decide an issue.

But it so happens that the Vienna Convention uses a phrase which is very much in line with the phrases which our courts have been dealing with in other contexts for many years, and I expect them to treat this particular phrase as being closely in ling with another phrase "in the course of his employment". I understand that this phrase includes not only cases where a person is acting on the express orders of his employer but also where he is acting on his implied authority for doing what is reasonably incidental thereto. I understand that the courts have been interpreting a phrase similar to this over a number of years, and we expect that the results will be very much the sane.


If a chauffeur had been drinking while his employer, an ambassador, had been doing some business with, let us say, a politician, and his judgment was impaired, and when he drove his employer away he then killed or injured somebody, would he be immune from action.


He would be immune if he was driving in the course of his duty.


Logically how can the noble Lord say that this can be related in any way, except that he was driving an ambassador's car? He had been enjoying himself in a way which was not in the course of his duty and so became befuddled and in a certain condition. He then gets back into the ambassador's car and kills somebody. I do not think that logically that man's condition could be related to his duties.


This, of course, is a matter of legal interpretation and I hesitate to give an answer here and now across the Floor of the House, but I think that as the law stands, if he was actually driving in the course of his duty he would be immune from suit and prosecution.


Surely the same argument would apply to the ambassador himself.


He would not be driving.


He would not be drunk.


I have been interested to note what the Minister said about this problem. It is one of the most troublesome which the courts have to deal with in the course of their duties. The Workmen's Compensation Act provided material for the House of Lords itself, and even after thirty years it is still not altogether easy for experienced lawyers to be quite sure of the answer. I appreciate that it is late in the day now to try to find some other method to deal with this, but it is a problem which might well give rise to considerable difficulties in the courts.


So far as I understand, it is one, as the noble Lord says, with which the courts have been dealing for some considerable time.


Did my noble friend say there were 241 organisations, or 241 people, with this limited diplomatic privilege in this country?


There are 241 people with limited diplomatic privilege under the International Organisations Act. [Following is the List of International Organisations referred to by LORD CARRINGTON in the course of his answer]:

Organisation Order in Council
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund. S.I. 1946 No. 36
United Nations and International Court of Justice. S.I. 1947 No. 1272
S.I. 1949 No. 1428
International Labour Organisation S.I. 1949 No. 133
S.I. 1949 No. 1049
International Civil Aviation Organisation. S.I. 1949 No. 134
S.I. 1949 No. 1048
World Health Organisation S.I. 1949 No. 136
S.I. 1949 No. 1048
Food and Agriculture Organisation S.I. 1949 No. 834
U.N.E.S.C.O. S.I. 1949 No. 835
Council of Europe S.I. 1960 No. 442
Universal Postal Union S.I. 1954 No. 1466
International Telecommunications Union. S.I. 1954 No. 1467
World Meteorological Organisation S.I. 1954 No. 1469
N.A.T.O. S.I. 1954 No. 1471
Commission for Technical Co-operation in Africa South of the Sahara. S.I. 1955 No. 1208
Western European Union S.I. 1955 No. 1209
International Finance Corporation S.I. 1955 No. 1954
Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. S.I. 1959 No. 1296
Customs Co-operation Council S.I. 1961 No. 63
International Atomic Energy Agency S.I. 1961 No. 65
European Free Trade Association S.I. 1961 No. 1000
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. S.I. 1961 No. 836
Central Treaty Organisation
International Tin Council S.I. 1961 No. 1198
International Wheat Council S.I. 1962 No. 1338
International Coffee Council
International Sugar Council S.I. 1958 No. 2191

On Question, Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to

Clause 5 [Amendment of saving in Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919]:

3.7 p.m.

LORD CARRINGTON moved, at the end of the clause, to insert: (2) In paragraph (a) of the proviso to section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1948 for the words from 'possesses such immunity' to 'His Majesty' there shall be substituted the words 'is a person on whom any immunity from jurisdiction is conferred by or under the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 or on whom such immunity from jurisdiction as is conferred by that Act on a diplomatic agent is conferred by or under any other Act'.

The noble Lord said: This is a technical Amendment. Its purpose is to avoid unwanted changes in our existing nationality law which may otherwise result from the Bill. It is designed to maintain the position that children born in the United Kingdom of persons enjoying diplomatic immunity do not thereby acquire citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. By Section 4 of the British Nationality Act, 1948, all persons born in the United Kingdom are to be citizens of the United Kingdom by birth, with two exceptions: these are the children of persons having the immunity of an envoy, and enemy aliens. These exceptions reflect the old Common Law doctrine of British nationality by birth within Her Majesty's dominions and allegiance. Diplomats and enemy aliens are not regarded as being within Her Majesty's allegiance.

Under the Bill, not all members of diplomatic missions will in future have the same immunity as the envoy himself, so that the expression such immunity as is accorded to an envoy will not be effective to bring in the other members of the mission who are at present covered. Hence, we propose the words on whom any immunity from jurisdiction is conferred by or under the Act. Various other Acts of Parliament have extended the immunity of an envoy or enabled it to be extended to various people, including the high officers of international organisations or delegates attending international conferences in the United Kingdom. They are at present covered by the saving in Section 4 of the 1948 Act. To ensure that these people continue to be covered, we need the last part of the Amendment—namely, on whom such immunity from jurisdiction as is conferred by that Act on a diplomatic agent is conferred by or under any other Act. I am afraid that the wording is unavoidably complicated, but it provides in effect for the maintenance of the present position as regards the high officers of international organisations, and so on.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 12, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Carrington.)


I am sure that the noble Lord has correctly explained to the Committee the, meaning, of this Amendment, but I would challenge any noble Lord to read the Amendment and interpret it as he has done—in fact, the noble Lord felt it necessary to apologise for the wording. I do not ask the noble Lord to take the Amendment back, but I wonder whether he would look at it again and ask those responsible for the drafting to see if they cannot put up something which would at any rate give us some idea of what this is all about. The most eminent lawyer in the world could not discover by reading it, or even, I suggest, by looking at the British Nationality Act, 1948, what the Amendment means. Whether a few words explaining what that Act is about, and what Section 4 is about or something of that kind would suffice, I do not know; but I feel that when we are passing legislation we should try as hard as we can to make it intelligible. While we shall not oppose the Amendment, I hope that on Report stage we may have a better version of it than exists at the present time.


The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is an eminent solicitor, and if he cannot understand this Amendment he will realise with what horror I looked at it when I saw it first, because I was in exactly the same position. But I think the noble Lord knows as well as I do the difficulties under which Parliamentary draftsmen and Parliamentary Counsel work. It is difficult, as we both know, to get complicated matters of this kind put in uncomplicated language. I am sure that on this occasion the Parliamentary draftsman has done everything he can. I will, of course, do what the noble Lord suggests and ask whether it is possible to put it more simply. I do not hold out much hope, however, because I do not think he has done this for the fun of it, but has done it in the simplest form. I can give this assurance to the noble Lord: that it does really mean what I said in my explanation it meant.


I would remind the noble Lord the Leader of the House that in about 1948 we had a similar experience in connection with a clause of the Companies Bill of that year, which an eminent ex-Lord Chancellor, and one of the greatest experts on Company law this country has ever had, the late Lord Maugham, said was gibberish to him. My noble Leader, Lord Jowitt, who was Lord Chancellor at the time, made a reply on exactly the same lines as the Leader of the House has just made to my noble friend Lord Silkin. But the Parliamentary draftsman, or somebody, was so overwhelmed with what the late Lord Maugham said about the clause that he came back a week or two later with a clause which was intelligible to all of us. Possibly my noble friend's interjection may lead to a similar result. At any rate, I hope that it will, because this Amendment is equally unintelligible to me as it is to him.


I happen to know that the author is present, and no doubt he has heard what the noble Lord has said.


May I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House this question? He has put forward something which he admits is unintelligible to most legislators of this House. He, as a member of the Executive, tells the Legislature that it means a particular thing. But will the courts in the future necessarily agree with the Executive's interpretation of something that is entirely unintelligible to the Legislature? I think that, as the Legislature, we are entitled to expect the Executive to come along with something that is intelligible. I would therefore press the Leader of the House to give some slightly more forthcoming statement than that we must take it that the Amendment means what the Executive say, because I think it is somewhat in contempt of the Legislature to take this and pass it as at present proposed.


I will, of course, bear in mind what my noble friend says. But I think there is in point of fact an explanation in Clause 3(2), lines 45 and 46, of what this means. So the explanation is also in the Bill. However, if we can think of some similar simpler words, I will certainly give an undertaking that we shall do so.


When there is great difficulty about drafting it is sometimes possible to get a simpler result by putting in an entirely new clause setting it out in full. Perhaps that could be done on this occasion.


The greatest difficulty the ordinary public find, I understand from the ordinary citizens with whom I have spoken, is the enormous amount of legislation passed that is practically all by reference. My noble friend Lord Silkin put the point with which I sympathise most-namely, that there ought to be something in this particular clause. It should not be necessary to try to find out whether there is something in Clause 3(2) which has reference to Clause 5. There should be in the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved a lead-in, with reference to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Silkin. If I could have an assurance of that, I think we could regard the Minister's position as satisfactory. But it certainly ought to give a lead-in which says what it is all about, and not comprise merely a short reference to the Act of 1948.


I have already given an undertaking that I will look at it again, and if the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition will forgive me, I do not think I should go further. If your Lordships accept that my explanation is a valid one, at any rate this is what we are trying to do. And it is rather a limited point. I do not think it will happen on a great many occasions that the children of foreign diplomats who are not the heads of missions will be born here, and we shall have this complication of British nationality. However, that does not excuse any legislation which is not clear, and I will see if the Parliamentary draftsman, who is listening to this debate, can produce something simpler. I will give that undertaking.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.

Schedule 1:

Articles of Vienna Convention having the force of law in the United Kingdom

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