HL Deb 04 December 1967 vol 287 cc424-9

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD STRANG in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Agreements providing for additional or reduced privileges and immunities]:

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, told us on Second Reading of this Bill that one of the purposes of Clause 3 is to give the power to ratify the Anglo-Soviet Consular Convention which was signed on December 2, 1965, and the noble Lord pointed out that Article 36 of that Convention regulates the right of a consular officer to be notified of the arrest or detention of a national and to have access to him. This passage of the Convention, as the noble Lord said, is very relevant to the case of Mr. Gerald Brooke, which we discussed on Second Reading and with which your Lordships expressed considerable concern. But the noble Lord did not say whether the Soviet Government had shown itself willing to ratify this bilateral Convention, and I should like to press the noble Lord on this point and ask him whether he considers it likely that they will do so.

The more your Lordships look at the case of Mr. Gerald Brooke the more distressing I think you will consider it to be. I should like to make here a point which I implied on Second Reading. If the Soviet Government will not allow our Consul to visit Mr. Brooke again, they should allow a doctor to see him. Preferably, I should have thought, a doctor from this country would have been appropriate. But if this is not acceptable, then I suggest that, at the very least, they should permit a neutral doctor from, say, the International Red Cross to visit him. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Snow, is with us this evening. I hope that he will confirm that this case is a matter of great concern to friends of the Soviet Union in this country, and I hope that the Russians will listen to what we have to say and agree to take the kind of humane action which we advocate.

There is another point on Clause 3 which I would make, and which is not related to the case of Mr. Brooke. The Bill once again extends the frontier of privileges enjoyed by representatives in this country of foreign Governments. It is understandable that in certain countries our Consuls need additional privileges if they are to function effectively, and that we may, therefore, have to grant additional privileges as provided in this clause. Nevertheless, it seems to me, and I think most of your Lordships will agree, that this may be a somewhat slippery slope. I hope, therefore, that the Government will watch this point carefully and, where necessary, use their powers to exclude by Order in Council any privileges and immunities which are not provided for by any bilateral Agreement made between this country and any other State. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give me an assurance on that point.


My Lords, I should like to add one word to the first point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough. I do so because many of my Soviet friends, and many of your Lordships, know that I should be the last person here willingly to take part in any attempt to make a political use of a distressing case. Having said that, I have to say that I support what the noble Earl said about the principle of consular visitations. The right of a Consul to receive notification of arrest and to have access to any of his nationals incarcerated in a foreign country is a most important right. It is most important for two reasons; partly because it eliminates suspicion and the possibility of political friction, and partly—and in my view more importantly—from purely human considerations. I believe that these human considerations should apply to the case of Gerald Brooke, and that it is important that he should be allowed visits from our Consul. I hope that the Soviet Government will believe that this is the considered view of those who have nothing but good feelings towards their country and wish it well.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, has again drawn your Lordships' attention to the unhappy story of Mr. Gerald Brooke. I, for one, hope that the words of the noble Lord, Lord Snow—words, if I may say so, that may well have influence in the Soviet Union, since the Government of that country well know his attitude towards them over many years—will have some real effect in this particular case. Since I spoke on the Second Reading we have had further discussions, through diplomatic channels, in regard to Mr. Brooke, and I regret that those discussions did not reveal any progress on the various aspects of his case which are the subject of the exchanges with the Soviet Government. In regard to the health of Mr. Brooke, in the light of Mr. Weatherly's report to us we have asked the Soviet Government to let us have a specific statement as to whether or not he has tuberculosis. I would suggest that until we receive a specific statement from the Soviet authorities the question of asking for a doctor to see him should be left aside.

In regard to the Consular Convention, the bilateral Agreement between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, Article 36 makes it perfectly clear that a Consul should be allowed to see any prisoner, first of all on his arrest and then, in the case of a sentence, during his period of arrest on a recurrent basis. Certainly we ourselves could not ratify that Agreement, that Convention, unless we were satisfied that the Soviet authorities recognised quite clearly that the bilateral Agreement applies to Mr. Brooke. I understand that the Soviet authorities are anxious that the bilateral Agreement should be ratified and I understand that they themselves are ready to ratify. But I think I should make it quite clear that until Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that the position of Mr. Brooke is quite clear in the minds of the Soviet Union, we ourselves could not embark on our own ratification.

With regard to Lord Bessborough's request that grant of privileges should not be a "slippery slope". I well know your Lordships' view on immunities and privileges of the Diplomatic Service and other international bodies. But, as the noble Earl himself said, these immunities and privileges are essential if the diplomatic and consular services are to operate not only in this country but in other countries on our own behalf. I would assure the noble Earl that in many cases the Vienna Convention could be regarded as insufficient for the consular services in some of the Eastern countries. That is why we have entered into two particular bilateral Agreements, one with Poland and one with the Soviet Union; and we may well enter into others.

I would assure the noble Earl that we shall agree only to those immunities and privileges which in our view are necessary for our own staff serving in the particular countries. On the other hand, of course, they have to be reciprocal. If any country were to reduce its immunities and privileges to our staff in that country, then clearly under Clause 2 we should have the power by Order in Council to reduce the immunities and privileges of that country here. I hope that I have answered all the questions, and also that the words of my noble friend Lord Snow will bear fruit and that we shall be able to get a proper answer from the Soviet Union regarding Mr. Gerald Brooke.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Refund of customs duty on hydrocarbon oils]:

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?


The same consideration which I raised in regard to Clause 3 about the extension in privileges seems to me to apply also in regard to Clause 8, on hydrocarbon oils. The noble Lord told me on Second Reading that it was proposed to amend the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 in order to give statutory authority for the refund to diplomatic missions and personnel of duties on hydrocarbon oils. May I ask the noble Lord whether such refunds are made at present and, if so, on what authority? The noble Lord estimated that the consular concession on hydrocarbon oils costs the Exchequer some £6,000 a year; but presumably there is also the cost of administering the concession. May I ask him whether he is satisfied that this concession is, in fact, essential?


This is a reciprocal refund on duty, and it will apply not only to consular staff serving in this country but also to our own consular staff serving overseas. The figure that I gave in terms of the consular staff, of some £6,000 was, I think, the total figure, but I certainly have not been given any cost of administration. The noble Earl referred also to the Diplomatic Corps and to the fact that I said we should need to amend the Diplomatic Privileges Act to bring this into line with the Consular Relations Bill. This is not in itself an extension of the privileges that now exist; it is really to give them statutory authority. At present, the authority for such refunds arises from the various departmental Votes. In the case of foreign consular representatives, it is the Foreign Office Vote. If there were Commonwealth Consuls, then of course this would be done under the Commonwealth Office; but at the moment, in practice, it comes under the Foreign Office Vote, which, as the noble Earl knows, is approved annually by Parliament. That is the authority for these refunds. But again, as the noble Earl has said, we do not wish this to be a "slippery slope", and I give the noble Earl the assurance for which he asks.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clauses 9 to 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Commonwealth and Irish consular officers]:


This is a technical Amendment. The purpose of Clause 13 is, in the event of consular relations being established between the United Kingdom and any other Commonwealth country to regulate the position as regards the performance of certain functions laid down by Statute of United Kingdom consular officers serving in an independent Commonwealth country and of Commonwealth consular officers serving in the United Kingdom. The Committee will see that in Clause 13 a reference is made to the Merchant Shipping Act 1965. This needs to be extended to include the Merchant Shipping (Load Lines) Act 1967, Section 27 of which amends Section 69 of the Merchant Shipping (Safety and Load Line Conventions) Act 1932. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8 line 6 leave out ("1965") and insert ("1967").—(Lord Shepherd.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendment.