HL Deb 25 January 1966 vol 272 cc10-28

2.55 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is to give the Commonwealth Secretariat the capacity of a corporate body and to confer upon it, and on its staff, the privileges and immunities necessary to enable them effectively to carry out the tasks appointed to them by the Commonwealth Heads of Government, at their meeting in June, 1965, and described in the White Paper presented to Parliament in July, 1965 (Cmnd. 2713).

The House will appreciate how agreeable it is for me, at this point of time especially, to direct the attention of noble Lords to something which is positive, constructive and hopeful in Commonwealth affairs. The idea of a permanent organization to serve the Commonwealth as a whole is not new. Some noble Lords (I see the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and others, here) may well think back to the schemes and dreams put forward years before the modern Commonwealth evolved. These ideas, when floated, have usually foundered on hard suspicions that such a permanent central body would diminish or encroach upon the sovereignty already enjoyed or still to be achieved by individual member nations.

Proposals for a central Commonwealth Secretariat were made on several occasions in the 1940s. The possibility of developing Commonwealth consultation was discussed at the Prime Ministers' Meeting in 1946. The statement issued after that meeting said, and I quote: While all are willing to consider and adopt practical proposals for developing the existing system, it is agreed that the methods now practiced are preferable to any rigid centralized machinery. In their view such centralized machinery would not facilitate, and might even hamper, the combination of autonomy and unity which is characteristic of the British Commonwealth and which is one of our great achievements. In 1946 there were six member countries of the Commonwealth. It was then possible to exchange information and ideas and to keep in touch informally, and, indeed, on an ad hoc basis. During the 1950s, the picture changed and at an increasing speed. By 1960, there were 11 Commonwealth countries; and five years later that number had exactly doubled. It was in this House on July 6, 1960, that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, who has always been so keenly and constructively interested in Commonwealth affairs, raised this question of the necessity for developing some machinery in the context of this widening Commonwealth body. The noble Lord said in that debate that machinery would have to be created for the collection and supply of information, and in the course of the debate other noble Lords went on to discuss procedures devised to assist with the financial, educational and technical development of new member countries.

As I have already suggested this conception had never previously found favor among all the Commonwealth Governments. I suppose it was inevitable that when the Mother Country, as we were sometimes called, took the initiative with any proposal for new machinery, the younger members of the family would ponder as to whether this was not a matter of seeking to establish new forms of authority in place of the old. There was usually a feeling felt at different times, more strongly in one part of the Commonwealth than another, that such a body, or such a central organization, would somehow be used as an instrument of British control over the policies of other Commonwealth Governments. It is good to think that those days of suspicion have largely gone. Certainly, no one to-day would question the concept that each and every member country—the United Kingdom no less and no more than the others—is in free and sovereign control of its own policies, and no part of the machinery of co-operation should, or indeed could, get in the way of that concept.

This evolution of ideas and change of attitudes within the Commonwealth was reflected in the final communiqué issued by the Heads of Government after the 1964 meeting. That communiqué stated: Finally, they were anxious that some permanent expression should be given to the desire which had been evident through their deliberations for closer and more informed understanding between their Governments on the many issues which engaged their attention and for some continuing machinery for this purpose. They therefore instructed officials to consider the best basis for establishing a Commonwealth Secretariat which would be available inter alia to disseminate factual information to all member countries on matters of common concern; to assist existing agencies both official and unofficial in the promotion of Commonwealth links in all fields and to help co-ordinate, in co-operation with the host country, the preparation of future meetings of Commonwealth Heads of Government and. where appropriate, the meetings of other Commonwealth Ministers. The communiqué went on: This Secretariat, being recruited from member countries and financed by their contributions, would be at the service of all Commonwealth Governments and would be a visible symbol of the spirit of co-operation which animates the Commonwealth. The meeting of officials envisaged in 1964 was held in January, 1965, and the plan for a Secretariat was produced. This was subsequently considered by Commonwealth Governments and all confirmed their agreement in principle. Officials met again in June to identify matters requiring specific decisions by Heads of Government, and at their meeting later in the same month reports of officials were considered and approved by the Heads of Government and unanimously agreed in the Memorandum on the Commonwealth Secretariat attached to their final communiqué. It was this agreed Memorandum, the White Paper, to which I referred earlier.

Commonwealth Heads of Government also agreed unanimously that the great honor of playing host to the Secretariat should fall upon Britain. The British Government responded by offering to house the Secretariat in Marlborough House which, in 1959, Her Majesty the Queen had graciously put at the disposal of her Government in Britain as a Commonwealth Centre. The use to which Marlborough House is put, in whole or in part, is, in the terms of the Queen's Entrustment, a matter for decision by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. It has come to be accepted that its main use should be as a centre for Commonwealth meetings in London, particularly meetings of Commonwealth Heads of Government. My right honorable friend felt that not only would it be within the terms and the spirit of the Queen's Entrustment, but it was particularly appropriate that the body which is in future to service meetings of Commonwealth Heads of Government should be established in part of this beautiful and historic building in the centre of London. The other member countries of the Commonwealth gratefully accepted our offer, and the Secretariat, now in Marlborough House, is for all practical purposes a guest of Britain.

During their deliberations on the establishment of the Secretariat the Commonwealth Heads of Government laid great emphasis on the need to attract to the service of the Secretariat the highest possible quality of Commonwealth servant. The Commonwealth now has at its service the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Mr. Arnold Smith, one of the most senior and experienced members of the Canadian Diplomatic Service. His appointment was unanimously approved by the Heads of Government in July. Mr. Smith has been joined by two distinguished deputies, Mr. A. L. Adu, from Ghana, and Mr. T. E. Gooneratne, from Ceylon. Mr. Smith has appointed other staff from other member countries and it is expected that within the next few months the initial establishment will be completed. It was not long before Mr. Smith had energetically embarked on the tasks laid down in the Agreed Memorandum, but it could scarely have been expected that within the first few months of its existence, before all the office accommodation and staff recruitment arrangements had been completed and with no collective experience behind it, the Secretariat would have achieved so much.

The Secretary-General attended the Commonwealth Finance Meeting in Jamaica in September, 1965, and the Commonwealth Medical Conference in Edinburgh in October. His activities have included consultation with Commonwealth Governments and their representatives on a wide range of subjects, including helping with the processing of Singapore's application for membership of the Commonwealth which was sponsored by the Prime Minister of Malaysia. There have been many meetings between Mr. Smith and Ministers, and officials of Commonwealth Governments and representatives of Commonwealth organizations. Mr. Smith has already visited Commonwealth countries in East and Central Africa to meet with Heads of Government, Ministers and officials. The Secretariat serviced the meeting in London of Commonwealth trade officials last November. Naturally, when requested, the help of experienced officials in our own Commonwealth Relations Office, the host country, has been willingly extended and made available.

As we all know, last month, at very short notice, the Secretariat undertook one of its most important functions, the immense task of servicing the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government. The unique character of that Conference in Lagos has been much commented on. It was the first to be held outside the United Kingdom; the first concerned with a single and special subject; the first at which the chair was not taken by the Head of Government of the United Kingdom, and also, of course, the first which the Commonwealth Secretariat had the responsibility of servicing. Mr. Arnold Smith and his colleagues have acknowledged the assistance given by officials in the host country and, again, by the experienced civil servants from this country. But all those who have any knowledge of that quite historic Lagos Conference would wish to pay tribute to the successful way in which the new Commonwealth Secretariat discharged its responsibilities.

This afternoon at Marlborough House there is to be a meeting, arranged by the Secretary-General, at which Commonwealth representatives will be setting up the two Commonwealth Committees concerned with Rhodesian affairs, in accordance with the recommendations of the Heads of Governments at Lagos. Incidentally, also for discussion later this week is the setting up of a Committee to review intra-Commonwealth organizations, such as the Commonwealth Economic Committee and the Commonwealth Education Liaison Committee, and to consider the future relationship of these organizations with the Secretariat. Noble Lords will see that the position of the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat and members of his staff is one of great trust and responsibility. They will have in their care much confidential information about Commonwealth affairs. They must clearly be in a position properly to perform the duties allotted to them. This Bill sets out to facilitate the discharge of those duties.

Clause 1(1) of the Bill gives the Secretariat the legal capacity of a body corporate. The Secretariat has to be given this capacity so that it may undertake legal obligations and enter into agreements, and, should this ever unfortunately prove necessary, to sue and to be sued in its corporate name. Subsection (2) of the clause, read with the Schedule, confers on the Secretariat and its members and staff similar immunities and privileges—with two exceptions to which I shall refer later—to those accorded to Commonwealth High Commissioners in London and in other Commonwealth capitals, and to members of their staffs. These privileges and immunities are those agreed by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting June, 1965, and specified in Annex A of the Agreed Memorandum.

During the several discussions on the establishment of the Secretariat lengthy consideration was given to the question of whether, in respect of immunities and privileges, the Secretariat and its staff should be given comparable treatment to that accorded to a Commonwealth High Commission and its staff. It is appreciated that such treatment could not be as of right, as the Secretariat is not the representative of any sovereign independent State. But our Commonwealth as a whole is a unique organization, and the Commonwealth leaders saw the Secretariat as a unique body within that organization. It is a servant and is answerable directly not to one Commonwealth Government, but to 22 sovereign independent States. It was therefore considered to be of the greatest importance that this body should be treated in a special way.

I have already mentioned the great stress that was laid upon the need to attract to the service the very best grade of Commonwealth civil servant. The Agreed Memorandum lays it down that, whilst efficiency must be the first consideration, the staff of the Secretariat should be recruited as widely as possible throughout the geographical area of the Commonwealth. It was realized that in most cases individuals of the required calibre and experience would come from the diplomatic services of the Commonwealth, or would certainly be qualified—


My Lords, may I be allowed to put a question to the noble Lord? Can he tell us whether the Service has been thrown widely open to women and, if so, have any come forward, and have any been appointed?


My Lords, to the best of my knowledge, no women were appointed among the senior officers, but certainly there was no bar upon the appointment of any female officer. I should think it is hardly likely that the appointments were thrown open in terms.


My Lords, would the Minister be good enough to look into this point? If no women have been appointed, I hope that they will be encouraged to come forward. After all, the Commonwealth is half composed of women.


Yes, my Lords, not only is it half composed of women, but within the Commonwealth we also have had two women Prime Ministers, a remarkable fact which is a source of considerable satisfaction. Certainly, I will give consideration to the point made by the noble Baroness.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he said just now that "he thought it hardly likely" that recruitment had been thrown open to women?


My Lords, I think that my noble friend misunderstood what I said. I think that what I actually said would appeal to my noble friend. I said that it was not thrown open "in terms". I always understood that my noble friend wanted women to be treated equally with men, and it would not be in accordance with her views to say specifically that there was no bar to the appointment of women. But certainly no bar has been placed on their being considered equally with any male candidates.


My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, would he deal with two matters? One is: how is the cost of the Secretariat borne? The other is: by whom are made these appointments of officers to the Secretariat under the Secretary-General—by the Governments of the countries concerned or by the Secretary-General?


My Lords, the noble Earl will excuse me, because I had not finished my speech, but I can deal with the points which he made. The cost is expected to be of the order of £175,000 and the contribution of Her Majesty's Government will be about 30 per cent. of that figure. The senior staff—the Secretary-General and two Deputies—are within the appointment of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. The other staff will be within the appointment of the Secretary-General himself, within the terms laid down by the Heads of Government.

In the hope that my noble friend has acquitted me of any prejudice against women, perhaps I may go on with what I was saying. I was emphasizing the need to get for the Secretariat officers of the highest calibre, and that in the main they would tend to come from the diplomatic services of the Commonwealth. Therefore, it was felt right that the status of the senior officers of the Secretariat should be equated with that of the diplomatic staff of the Commonwealth High Commission. The other Commonwealth Governments say that they would be prepared to accord to the senior officers of the Secretariat treatment comparable with that accorded to the diplomatic staff of the High Commission, and the British Government, too, felt that this was right.

The senior officers of the Secretariat must also be permitted to carry out the duties expected of them by Commonwealth Governments without fear or favor, let or hindrance. They will, as I have indicated, be entrusted with an increasing quantity of confidential information. To maintain the trust and responsibility imposed upon it and to perform the confidential duties entrusted to it, the Secretariat must clearly be free from all other compulsion. To this end, the senior officers have been accorded immunity from suit and legal process and other officers have been accorded immunity in respect of their official acts. The Secretary-General has power to waive this immunity.

There are, however, to be two exceptions to this provision for immunity. I he first is income tax liability. The staff of the Commonwealth High Commission in London who are nationals of the sending countries are exempt from United Kingdom income tax, but of course they are taxed by their own countries. The same effect on senior officers of the Secretariat who are not United Kingdom citizens could be obtained by not levying tax at all and paying them net tax-free salaries appropriate for their ranks and duties. But this would create a class of income tax-free people, which Her Majesty's Government as well as most other Governments are anxious to avoid. It is proposed. There fore, that the Secretariat staff should be paid gross salaries according to their ranks and duties and that they should be liable to British income tax on those salaries in the normal way. But so that these extra amounts payable by the Secretariat in paying salaries gross instead of net would not come back to the British Government as a tax, the British Government will refund the tax collected on the salaries to the budget of the Secretariat. I emphasize that the repayment will be to the budget and not to the officers of the Secretariat. This refund will be made in addition to the British agreed contribution to the expenses of the Secretariat.

This procedure may seem elaborate, but it is undesirable that a new tax-free class of persons should be created, and the alternative of an internal tax levied by the Secretariat itself would, it is thought, be an unnecessary burden on the admistrative power of this small organization. The procedure also has the merit of applying one consistent tax system to all the staff of the Secretariat, including United Kingdom citizens recruited for junior posts.

The second respect in which the Secretariat, as distinct from the senior officers, will differ from a High Commission is that it will not have immunity from suit and legal process in respect of civil action for damages alleged to have been caused by a motor vehicle belonging to or operated on behalf of the Secretariat, or of a motor traffic offence involving such a vehicle, and in respect of arbitration proceedings relating to any written contract entered into by or on behalf of the Secretariat. I do not think that I need explain to the House the thought behind these limitations on immunities and privileges and I am glad to say that they are acceptable to all other Commonwealth Governments.

Clause 2(2) brings the Act into effect from July 1, 1965, the date from which it was agreed at the June meeting the Secretariat would formally come into being. The purpose of giving the Act retrospective effect is to give legal validity to anything already done in the name of the Secretariat, and to give legal cover to exemption from such matters as Customs duties already granted to it, and to its officers. However, your Lordships will see that it is not intended that retrospection shall prevent the enforcement of any liability that has been incurred by the Secretariat or its staff for the period between the establishment of the Secretariat and the enacting of this Bill.

My Lords, I have put before the House the main features of the Bill which is desired by other Commonwealth Governments. It is a short Bill, but I am sure that we all trust that it will have a long and developing contribution to make towards the strengthening of our Commonwealth association. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2. —(Lord Beswick.)

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we should all wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for giving us a little of the historical background to this organization, and we on this side of the House are happy to welcome the Bill. Sometimes, perhaps, your Lordships are a little reluctant to extend diplomatic immunity to new international organizations, but in this case I am sure it is the wish of the whole House that certain privileges and immunities should be granted ungrudgingly to members of the Commonwealth Secretariat. I shall say a further word about this at the end of my remarks. Meanwhile, I feel that this is perhaps not an occasion on which we can very well discuss in detail the functions of the Secretariat, as drawn up in the Agreed Memorandum which the noble Lord mentioned, and which was published after the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in 1965.

The proposals regarding the establishment of such a Secretariat go back, as we know, some twenty years. The noble Lord has already mentioned the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, as having taken a great interest in this subject. I do not think that any of those who have in the past had reservations about the establishment of a Commonwealth Secretariat would now want to do anything other than wish the organization God-speed. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Carrington, who made some pertinent remarks in our debate on the Commonwealth last May, on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Casey, would agree about this. I know that the Secretary-General of the Secretariat is in full accord with my noble friend, that it would be unfortunate if the Commonwealth became over-organized, perhaps on the lines of an international body like the United Nations. As my noble friend suggested in May, this might well be a sentence of death on a society of nations such as the Commonwealth, which is loosely knit and has quite different objects from those of other international bodies. I know from my own conversations with the Secretary-General that he is fully conscious of the desirability of retaining a certain informality in the meetings. Indeed, I am sure that he will not want to formalize too much.

There is no doubt that the Commonwealth is most fortunate in the choice of its first Secretary-General, Mr. Arnold Smith, and again in his Deputy Secretaries-General, Mr. Adu, from Ghana, whom the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and I got to know quite well as the first African District Commissioner from Ghana, and as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said, Mr. Gooneratne, from Ceylon. I know, from having met them at Marlborough House—that magnificent House—how effectively the work of the Secretariat has begun. I know that Mr. Smith, who is an old Canadian friend. is one of the first to recognize that the Secretariat should not turn itself into a kind of European Economic Commission with executive powers. But Mr. Smith does believe—and I think your Lordships will agree with him—that the Secretariat has an important role to play as a go-between, and in order to assist in organizing meetings and generally helping in the dissemination of information, as well as smoothing out some perhaps unnecessary difficulties, avoiding misunderstandings, and perhaps even foreseeing some problems before they arise.

Like my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir, who was hoping to be here this afternoon, I have, subject to the reservations made by my noble friend Lord Carrington, for some time been in favor of the establishment of such a Secretariat, which would be available to arrange Commonwealth meetings, not only in London but also elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Indeed, I remember thinking already in the early thirties (this is going back a bit), when my father was Governor General of Canada, that the creation of such an organization would ultimately be desirable. At the age of eighteen I was already involved in the first Commonwealth Conference, of which I was on the fringe—namely the Imperial Economic Conference of 1931: indeed, it was after that Conference that these first wicked thoughts entered my head about the possibilities of such a Secretariat. In this sense, I would say that my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir and I were quite as advanced in our thinking as those who first made such a proposal officially in 1946.

Then, in the years before the war, as a League of Nations official, I always thought it curious that, whereas the League had a neutral Secretariat at Geneva, with, of course, different functions, the Commonwealth never benefited from the existence of a neutral body available to service their meetings. Moreover, it is clear—and this is important—that the Secretary-General can be somebody to whom heads of Government can talk. I think the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, would probably agree with me on this, although he did not actually say so; that the Secretary-General can be somebody to whom Heads of Government can talk without committing themselves in any way.

From my own reports of the Lagos Conference, from some who were present, I should judge that, because of its neutral status, the Secretariat played a very useful part indeed. If meetings are proposed and organized by the Secretary-General, there can be no ground for suspicion by any member country that Britain is trying to enforce her own policies on the rest of the Commonwealth by being responsible, as she has been in the past, for organizing such meetings. I have no doubt that my friend Mr. Arnold Smith will have an important part to play in helping to solve many difficult Commonwealth problems. It was interesting to learn to-day about the setting up of the two Rhodesian Committees. I believe, also, that Mr. Smith's recent African tour was a most useful one.

Therefore, within the limits laid down in the Agreed Memorandum, I am sure that the Secretariat will become an essential organ of the Commonwealth as to its functions and any possible extension of them in the future. As I have said, this would hardly seem to be the time to debate them, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Todd, and I may have some suggestions to make when we come to discuss overseas technical and scientific aid in our debate on Thursday. As is stated in the Agreed Memorandum, already in 1964 the Commonwealth Prime Ministers made certain proposals for the Initiation of joint Commonwealth development projects. I will not go into them to-day, but there is no doubt that several noble Lords may have something to say on that aspect of technical and scientific aid within the Commonwealth when we come to the debate on Thursday. At the same time, I know that all concerned are agreed that nothing should be done which might disturb the existing channels of such aid to member countries or to duplicate the present bilateral and multilateral links. We shall await with great interest the comprehensive review of existing Commonwealth organizations concerned with economic and related affairs which is to be undertaken by the Small Committee which is mentioned in the White Paper and which is to have an independent chairman. It is probably right that the Secretary-General should not himself be a member of the Committee but that he should have the right to he present, or to be represented, at the discussions.

Finally, this Bill should, in my view, receive a smooth and rapid passage. I think your Lordships will be glad to know that, as the noble Lord said, according to the Schedule the privileges do not include immunity in respect of damage alleged to have been caused by motor vehicles belonging to or driven on behalf of the Secretariat, or in respect of motor traffic offences involving such vehicles. That seems to me to be eminently sensible. Whether we shall all feel as happy in regard to exemption from income tax, which includes surtax and capital gains tax, I do not know. No doubt this point will be discussed in Committee. I think that at least one noble Lord is rather concerned about it. But I am certain that otherwise your Lordships would wish members of the Secretariat to enjoy all the immunities and privileges normally granted to bona fide diplomats, whether from the Commonwealth or elsewhere in this country. I personally believe that the Commonwealth, with Her Majesty the Queen at its head, can still exert considerable influence for good in the world, that the Secretariat will help it to do so and, at the same time, act as an additional unifying force.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friends and I are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his careful exposition of this Bill. I am glad that he went in some detail, not so much into the terms of the Bill but into the conditions of the Secretariat, because this is a very important step in Commonwealth development which in my view is long overdue. But still, these things cannot be rushed. The Commonwealth acts by consensus, and until everybody is agreed one cannot make any move at all. But I do not think that any noble Lord who has studied this position carefully can have failed to realize what a revolution this is. It has a much longer history than any noble Lord has mentioned to-day.

The first time a subject of this kind was discussed was in the 1902 meeting of Colonial Prime Ministers, as they were then, when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain put up his tripartite scheme, first of all, for a Federation of the Empire, as it was then; secondly, for a military defense organization; and, thirdly, for a reciprocal tariff. The first two suggestions of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain were not accepted by the other members of the Empire. In fact, they were turned down flat, so Mr. Chamberlain was thrust back on to the tariff reciprocal arrangements. If they did not agree to this, at least they did not turn it down, and as a result of that he then forced it on the Conservative Party, splitting it in two for the time being, and undoubtedly to some extent laying the foundation for the tremendous Liberal gain in the 1906 General Election and the return of those eminent Liberal administrations, headed first by Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman and then by Mr. Asquith. Then in 1907, at the first of the Imperial Conferences, Australia made this same proposition of a permanent Secretariat. This was turned down mainly on the resistance of Canada. In fact, the Prime Minister of Australia went even further. He suggested that in future all the Prime Ministers' Conferences should be held in public. That has not been agreed to even yet, and I think it is very unlikely that it will be. We have come at any rate as far as Australia was prepared to go in 1907, so that is something. And no doubt in time we may even go a little further.

Your Lordships will see that we are discussing a great revolution in Commonwealth affairs. It has taken very many Year's to come about, and I think we ought to signify in no uncertain way to-day that this is a revolution. I think it is a very important step, because the Commonwealth cannot be only an idea; it must have some flesh and blood about it. It is no use letting it float in the air, as it were. To the ordinary man in the street, something which seems to have no sort of organization at all is a little too artificial to he grasped. Therefore, I was very pleased indeed that Mr. Arnold Smith was appointed; and his staff were afterwards engaged, either by the Heads of Government or by Mr. Arnold Smith himself.

They meet, as has been stated, in Marlborough House. I attended two Conferences there in an official capacity. I have only one suggestion to make—I do not think it is a criticism—for Marlborough House. It is a very handsome edifice, which, as your Lordships know, was originally built for or by the great Duke of Marlborough, and the latest Royal personage to live there was Queen Mary. It was all very well in the Duke of Marlborough's day, but it seems to me rather curious that the centre of a great Commonwealth should have on the walls enormous paintings—the most gory paintings you can imagine—of early 18th century wars in which Britons and Germans are killing large numbers of Frenchmen. Whether this is Mr. Harold Wilson's comment on the Common Market or not, I do not know; but it does not seem to me particularly applicable to a modern Commonwealth. I should have thought that, having regard to the very large number of fine artists we have in the Commonwealth, it would be much more appropriate if Mr. Arnold Smith looked to the Commonwealth Institute—as a Governor, I can offer him the services of the Institute—to give him the names of first-class Commonwealth artists who could provide far more suitable pictures for Marlborough House.

I also agree that the Lagos meeting was a very difficult one for this new Secretariat to manage, and that they did extraordinarily well. The only question I have to ask the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is with regard to the White Paper (Cmnd. 2713), where it says that the staff will be appointed for not more than five and not less than three years. Does the Secretariat propose to have a Secondment of people from the various Commonwealth countries? This, of course, would be valuable, because it would permit officials from the Commonwealth to have an opportunity of experience at the centre of the Commonwealth, as it were. Or does it propose to appoint people who will take up the work as a career? I should like to know that. I can see that there would be advantages either way, but it would be interesting to know whether it proposes to do one or the other, or perhaps a little of both.

Finally, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his reference to me. I am only sorry it has not always been the view of his colleagues, but still I have great respect for the noble Lord, and I appreciate very much what he has said about me to-day. I and my friends on these Benches wish the Secretariat every possible success in the future, and I should like to say here and now (though this is not the place to do so) that we have every confidence in the Commonwealth; that, in our opinion, any difficulties it may be going through are teething pains; and that the Commonwealth is going to play a great part in the future, and an even greater part than the Empire played in the past.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a word of welcome to this Bill. I can recollect discussions on this topic almost forty years ago. I remember that during the time I was Prime Minister we discussed this question. At that time, the general idea was that it was wise to keep all Commonwealth matters as informal as possible, to avoid complicating the machinery. I think we were right. But I also think that now is the right time for the Secretariat, now that we have overcome suspicions in some quarters. It is a great move forward and I wish it every possible success. I believe in keeping the Commonwealth together as a means of ensuring peace in the world, and I am happy the Government are bringing this Bill forward.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven for intervening in the debate, but it occurred to me that it would be a pity if a Bill of this kind were before your Lordships' House this afternoon and no expression of welcome were to come from the Back-Benches on the Government side. The fact that I follow my noble friend Lord Attlee reminds me that I once asked him a supplementary question in another place relevant to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, this afternoon, about the meetings of the Prime Ministers' Conferences. I did not go so far as the suggestion that they should be held in public, but I remember asking my noble friend when he was Prime Minister whether it would not be possible for Members of Parliament to be observers for short times during the sittings of those conferences. Obviously I did not get a very encouraging reply to my supplementary question, but the fact remains that it has been felt in many quarters that Parliamentarians as a whole have never been as closely associated with those conferences as they might be.

I know that the Bill before us this afternoon in the main deals with diplomatic immunities, and the Special Orders Committee in your Lordships' House has had recent opportunities of discussing these matters. Therefore I am not going to deal with them at all. What I want to do in the form of welcome is to make some suggestions with regard to the relationship between Members of Parliament and the new organization which is now being set up. I wonder whether, in the light of a new Commonwealth Secretariat, it is not possible that there should be a closer liaison between the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and this Secretariat. In my twenty years' experience it has always seemed to me that Members of Parliament of both Houses have suffered from a sense of frustration because we were not as near to the heart of things as we might have been. Prime Ministers' Conferences ended with, if I may say so, platitudinous communiqués. There was a hush-hush atmosphere about it all and the things that did leak out never seemed to be in accord with the final communiqué. It occurs to me that we might now have an opportunity in this way of bringing Parliamentarians, rather than representatives of Governments, closer into the thoughts and negotiations of this organization.

We have some kind of precedent. I think back to the Council of Europe, and the Committee of Ministers was always closely related to the General Assembly so that the Parliamentarian, as distinct from the Government representative, always seemed to have a voice. Now we could carry this much farther, into a relationship between the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the United Nations Organization. But we are discussing the Commonwealth this afternoon and the position is that there is a complete change in the Commonwealth to-day. Every individual part of the Commonwealth has a greater sovereignty than it had a few years ago. Therefore it must follow that there is a looser relationship than there was in the days when it consisted of half a dozen countries. This sovereignty creates a looseness and we shall never have that close affinity that we had in the past. Therefore I feel it necessary that there should be something to take its place, in which Members of the House of Commons and Back-Bench Members of your Lordships' House could be brought much closer to these things and if a request were made to Mr. Arnold Smith that he should, from time to time, liaise with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association I feel a great deal of good could be done and the Commonwealth would benefit considerably. These are just the words I wanted to utter without delaying the progress of the Bill in the slightest degree, and to express, as a humble Back-Bench Member of your Lordships' House, a very keen sense of welcome for the Bill.