HL Deb 29 April 1968 vol 291 cc932-7

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. I believe that the objects of this Bill should appeal to your Lordships. They are in a modest way a furtherance of the policy of international co-operation through the medium of international organisations, about which many of your Lordships spoke on the recently debated Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder, on January 25.

I will not disguise the fact that this is a highly complicated Bill. In my view, it is a Bill which will bear examination on Committee more than perhaps on Second Reading. I suspect that if I were to endeavour to cover the number of clauses in the Bill your Lordships would be more bemused than I was when the brief was presented to me at the week-end. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, will remember that we recently passed a Bill to provide immunities and privileges for the Consular Corps. This Bill provides in some cases privileges and immunities for the more senior officers of international organisations who may carry out work either of a permanent nature or of a casual nature in this country. I am sure your Lordships will agree that we should do what we can to attract these international organisations to this country since we receive a certain amount of "spin-off", in the sense that we are closer to them and can take an interest in their work.

These clauses in themselves do not give the immunities and privileges to the organisations. This will be done by Orders in Council. This Bill therefore is an enabling Bill which makes it possible for Orders in Council to be made and then for the immunities and privileges to come into being. I think that I should say, because the House in the past has always been jealous about the granting of immunities and privileges, that these Orders in Council will cover only the immunities and privileges which are contained in agreements which will be entered into by Her Majesty's Government. Such agreements may be made between Her Majesty's Government, as the host country, and an organisation which intends to come to this country. Certainly those privileges and immunities would not exceed those specified in Schedule 1 to the Bill. If one looks at Schedule 1 one sees that it is divided into Parts. The first Part provides for the privileges and immunities of the organisation itself as a corporate body; Part II provides for privileges and immunities of representatives, members of subordinate bodies, high officers, experts, and persons on missions; and Part III provides for certain privileges and immunities of other officers and servants.

I assure the House that what we envisage here is the granting of privileges and immunities which both Houses of Parliament will be required to approve when the Orders in Council come before them, and that they will be such immunities and privileges as are required by these international bodies in order to be able to work freely and properly in this country. It is difficult to rest this on a basis of reciprocity, since reciprocity will occur between the host Government and the organisation, but in practice there are many organisations which are operating in other countries, and we may well be a member of those organisations. We thus have a fairly good idea what immunities and privileges are required for those organisations to function properly. With those few words, I hope that the House will agree to give this Bill a Second Reading, and if there are any matters of detail we can perhaps consider them more adequately in Committee. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for having explained the Bill so concisely and rapidly. Any points which I raise and which he does not feel inclined to answer to-day I hope that he will be able to reply to on the Committee stage. I understand that the Bill replaces, with amendments and some new provisions, the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act 1950 and also the European Coal and Steel Community Act 1955.

I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord about the importance of international co-operation and of keeping good relations with other countries. But, as always on these occasions, your Lordships have to go through a kind of automatic ritual in expressing uneasiness about the number of concessions which we in this country grant to an ever increasing army of representatives of various international organisations. I am afraid that I have to express that uneasiness again and ask that this Bill should be looked at very carefully. I fully realise that immunities should be granted to people who come to this country as representatives of such organisations, but we must be sure that we do not give greater concessions here than are obtained for British people in similar posts abroad.

I see that Clause 1 merely gives the power to accord the privileges and immunities as set out in Schedule 1 and that there is nothing automatic about the privileges to be given. Schedule seems to consist of the maximum privileges and immunities which can be granted, and I should like an assurance from the Minister that there is no question of granting privileges and immunities unilaterally. Clause 10 of the Bill states that Orders in Council in exercise of the powers conferred by Clauses 1 and 5 are subject to Affirmative Resolution. I see, however—and I do not quite understand this—that Orders under clause 6 are not subject to Affirmative Resolution but only to annulment in pursuance of Resolutions by either House. Could the noble Lord tell me why this distinction has been drawn?

Then, in regard to purchase tax, paragraph 7 of Part I of Schedule 1.states that there will be relief by way of refund of purchase tax for any goods which are used for the official purposes of relevant organisations. I am glad to see the phrase "for the official purposes". I remember that in the debate on the European Coal and Steel Community Bill in 1955 in another place, the then Under-Secretary was asked whether there would be purchase tax concessions, and he replied: No purchase tax concessions are granted either statutorily or extra-statutorily …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 29/6/55; col. 445.] Is this in fact a change of policy and, if so, could the noble Lord say why? Will British representatives of organisations in foreign countries be granted similar concessions in regard to sales tax?

The Explanatory Memorandum, in dealing with Schedule 1, states that there will be exemption from social security obligations. This is expanded in paragraph 13 of Part II of the Schedule. Does this mean that the National Health Service is available to members of missions in this country without their having to pay National Insurance Stamp contributions? I fully understand why they should have limited exemption from estate duty, but if they are to have the benefits of our National Health Service they should pay for it. Finally, there is a reference in paragraph 23 of Part IV of the Schedule to "members of the family of a representative". Could the noble Lord tell me what this phrase means? Would it include the second cousin of a representative or a third cousin once removed? I feel that the word "family" in the paragraph should have some clearer definition. I would end by saying that we will watch very carefully the Orders in Council which will be made under the Bill to make certain that they do not automatically include all the privileges and immunities mentioned but are tailored to the particular case. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be able to give your Lordships answers to these questions, either this afternoon or during the Committee stage of the Bill.


My Lords, I also should like to welcome this Bill, which I believe represents very much a step in the right direction. But I should like my noble friend to say, either this afternoon or when we come to the Committtee stage, whether Clause 5 applies to the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission of Human Rights. He may prefer to wait until the Committeee stage, but I should be grateful for a reply as soon as he has the information.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, for giving general support to this Bill. I am going to surprise the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, by saying that his is the easiest question. Clause 5 does enable immunities and privileges to be given to the two bodies to which he referred. I assure the noble Earl that this Bill does not in any way provide for ad lib. privileges to those concerned, and they will be restricted. As I said in my opening speech, they must not exceed those privileges which are laid down in Schedule 1 to the Bill. In fact, there will often be occasions when the privileges and immunities that are granted are less. I think I should also say that, basically, privileges and immunities will be granted to these various organisations according to the need and according to their type and character. There may also be conferences of a somewhat permanent nature, while others may be quite temporary.

The noble Earl referred to Clause 6, and he wished to know why these Orders do not require the Affirmative Resolution procedure. As he well knows, that is a rather cumbersome procedure and the Orders have to go through both Houses of Parliament. But most of the Orders that will be made under this clause will be in regard to conferences which are for a very short period, and therefore it would be cumbersome if such Orders were required to go through both Houses. It would be wrong if we were to deny privileges and immunities to these conferences. It may well be that what is done under this clause will be the initial paving work before a full-scale international organisation can be set up in this country.

The noble Earl asked me about purchase tax. Part I provides for the relief from purchase tax when an organisation is set up. Perhaps it might be a once-and-for-all purchase, in which case it would be easy to see what purchase tax had been involved and to make a refund. I stand to be corrected, but I think it is true to say that under this Bill there is no immunity from purchase tax for individuals. I think it would be an impossible task to check all the personal purchases made by individuals in order that they could be relieved of tax. However, the overseas staff of these organisations will of course have relief from customs duties on entering this country. As I have said, these immunities and privileges will be based upon the criterion of the needs of the particular organisation.

In regard to the definition of the word "family", I know that it could be construed very widely. In fact, it has been used previously in regard to diplomatic and consular measures and there is clearly defined recognition of what is meant by the word "family". I do not have the exact definition with me, but I am sure that it refers very much to the close family of the officer involved. However, I shall see that the noble Earl is provided with that information between now and the Committee stage.

There may be one or two other points which we ought to consider, because this Bill is being initiated in this House. But perhaps we can talk about them between now and the Committee stage or, if necessary, at the Committee stage itself. I hope that the House will now agree to give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.