HL Deb 01 May 1969 vol 301 cc1019-23

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, I rise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Chalfont, who is unable to be here, to move that the International Sugar Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on April 15, be approved. If I may, I will speak also to the other similar Order, relating to the International Coffee Organisation.

I ask for the approval of the House for these Orders to be made under Section 1 of the International Organisations Act of 1968. The first three Orders laid under that Act, last November, were well received by your Lordships, and I hope that these two Orders also will be welcomed. One of the three Orders approved related to the immunities and privileges of the International Wheat Council. The two now before the House relate to the International Coffee Organisation and the International Sugar Organisation, and are almost identical with the Wheat Order. They enable Her Majesty's Government to conclude a Headquarters Agreement with a commodity organisation based in this country. Neither Organisation has yet received immunities and privileges which are entirely adequate for their functions. These Agreements put this right.

My Lords, the International Coffee Organisation has been operating from headquarters in the United Kingdom since it was set up in 1963, and 62 countries participate in it. The International Sugar Organisation is the successor to the International Sugar Council, and has 41 parties, so far; but more are expected to join. This has been operating from United Kingdom headquarters for even longer. Her Majesty's Government is a member of both organisations. The two organisations both seek to regulate the production and export of coffee and sugar. The House will know that both commodities are of particular concern to developing countries—for example, the West Indies and Mauritius, in the case of sugar, and a number of African and Latin American countries, as many noble Lords know, in the case of coffee. The work of the organisations is consequently of very great importance for these countries' economies.

The proposed Headquarters Agreements with these two organisations were laid before Parliament in draft in February. The terms of the Orders are based fundamentally on those of the European Space Research Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1965. The House recognised this 1965 Order as suited not only to the needs of the organisation, but also to public and Parliamentary opinion on this subject.

Similarly under the Coffee and Sugar Orders all members of the staffs of the two organisations, except the head of each, will be subject to the jurisdiction of the courts in respect of both criminal and civil proceedings arising from motoring offences and accidents. The organisations are not entitled to claim immunity from jurisdiction in respect of the enforcement of an arbitral award made against them under compulsory provisions in the Agreements. Personal privileges given to staff and representatives are of a limited character, and do not extend to their families. Exemption from United Kingdom income tax is conditional on the payment of an internal tax to the organisations themselves.

My Lords, Parliament is rightly concerned that extensions of immunities and privileges should be limited to the needs of the organisations and should conform to the general policy of the United Kingdom. Although' the immunities and privileges set out in the Orders will much improve the treatment which Her Majesty's Government will be able to give to the organizations—and this we are anxious to do—they are on an appropriate scale.

My Lords, I have explained these Orders in some detail, because this is a slightly complicated matter, and I hope I have shown that the Coffee and Sugar Orders closely follow the Wheat Order which was approved here as recently as last November, and I ask the House to approve these Orders.

Moved, That the Draft International Sugar Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1969 laid before the House on 1st April be approved.—(Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe.)

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Baroness for having explained these Orders to us at such short notice. We see that she is alone on the Front Bench with the two other noble Baronesses—the three Graces, as they have become to be known—with only one noble Lord behind. I do not know how many of these Orders have come before your Lordships' House since I have been dealing with these matters, but I think I can recall some half a dozen occasions during the fairly recent past. The noble Baroness herself referred to some of them, and although we always tend to say that we should not allow these immunities and privileges to proliferate too far, we always approve the Orders in the end.

Before the war I was myself an international civil servant in the League Secretariat concerned with refugees, and our headquarters were based in London, too. I may say that at that time we did not have any of these immunities and privileges, and we did not complain too much, although we enjoyed them when we went abroad. We in Britain were much less generous then than we are to-day. I do not propose to say any more on these Orders than to note that both of them, Sugar and Coffee, go well together if you have a sweet tooth—and I hope the noble Baroness has—and that they differ from the International Wheat Council Order only in according exemption from social security obligations in respect of staff members, other than those who are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, or permanently resident in the United Kingdom.

Clearly, we should not discourage the activities of such organisations, and if the Government really think that they should receive all these immunities and privileges, which perhaps they enjoy in other countries, I do not think we should be too parsimonious. But I should like to ask the noble Baroness one or two questions, and particularly one concerning exemption from social security obligations. First, are any other countries which have a National Health Service, or similar facilities, conferring full participating benefits without payment of contributions? Why is there this different provision (it is set out very clearly in the Explanatory Memorandum), in the case of sugar and coffee, which is not applicable in the case of the International Wheat Council? Secondly could the noble Baroness say how many people will be covered by these Orders who do not already have such privileges. Thirdly (I am not sure whether or not the noble Baroness answered this point in her preliminary remarks), I wonder whether she could confirm how many other countries have so far granted such privileges. I think she gave the total number of members of the Organisation, but she did not, I think, actually say how many other countries had granted such privileges to the members of the Organisations and how many had indicated that they intended to do so?

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am very familiar with the work done by the old League Secretariat, since I worked for twelve years with my right honourable friend Philip Noel-Baker. I well know the services which were done by that magnificent organisation. The answer to the noble Earl's questions are as follows—I will start with the last one first No other countries have granted privileges, because they are not applicable. These Orders are only for headquarters agreements, and the headquarters are here, so there is no need for privilege; elsewhere. The agreements have been arrived at on a multilateral basis. If ever there was a question of extending them, that could be done. As to the social security point, it is quite true that the Wheat Council Order did not contain this exemption, but that was because at the beginning the staff of the Wheat Council were largely British, and it would not have applied to them in any case The foreign staff there were perfectly happy with that arrangement The staff of the Coffee and Sugar Organisations are largely foreign and prefer to remain under the arrangements made either by their own countries or by the Organisations themselves.

As to the numbers of the staff who are not at present receiving these privileges, I have divided them into the two organisations. First is the Sugar Organisation. I should like to give these figures broken up still further: foreign staff, 6; British staff, 12. We think there may be an extension of that number; that would be another 10 posts. Representatives are 41 in number. I have just had to add the figures up because I forgot to do so before, and I hope the total is 69. Now the Coffee Organisation: foreign staff, 54; British staff, 11; Representatives, 62. That makes 127—I say that hopefully! I do not think I have left uncovered any points that were raised. I commend these Orders to your Lordships.