HL Deb 23 July 1971 vol 322 cc1310-4

12.26 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Diplomatic and Other Privileges Bill be now read a second time. I think your Lordships will agree that this Bill, which was passed last week in another place, is a Bill of relatively minor importance. Its four clauses are concerned with the privileges and immunities of diplomatic missions, international organisations and Commonwealth representatives. Most of its provisions were in fact contained in a similar Bill which had its Second Reading in another place over a year ago, under the previous Administration. Your Lordships will no doubt have observed, on studying the Bill, that it will not make any significant changes in practice or policy in this field. It is a useful tidying-up measure.

Clause 1 is intended to put on a statutory basis certain refunds which are already made administratively. It provides for the refund of the customs duty element in the price of hydrocarbon oil—that is, petrol and oil for heating—bought by diplomatic missions and certain members of missions and by the Commonwealth Secretariat. If these persons and bodies imported hydrocarbon oil directly for their own use, they would be entitled to exemption from customs duty under the provisions of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 and the Commonwealth Secretariat Act 1966. But this is impracticable, and so refunds of the duty are made instead. At present these refunds are made under the authority of the Appropriation Acts alone, but it is an accepted principle that statutory authority should be obtained for regular payments of this kind. Such authority has already been obtained in relation to similar refunds made to entitled persons connected with consulates and international organisations by the Consular Relations Act 1968 and the International Organisations Act 1968.

This clause will amend the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 and the Commonwealth Secretariat Act 1966 so as to bring them into line in this respect. On this clause becoming law, we intend to transfer the administration of all these refunds from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Department of Customs and Excise. They will then be made out of revenue, instead of out of voted money. I should emphasise that our missions in other countries are of course accorded the privilege of duty free petrol, with consequent overall financial savings to the United Kingdom. Subsection (3) of Clause 1 will allow us to withdraw the privilege from any country which is no longer according us reciprocity in this matter.

Clause 2 of the Bill will enable us to accord privileges and immunities to the Caribbean Development Bank, which was established early last year. All the present members of the Bank are States and territories within the Commonwealth. The Bank provides capital for development projects in the countries in the Caribbean area, and it is a project which Her Majesty's Government wholeheartedly support. The United Kingdom ratified the Agreement establishing the Caribbean Development Bank on January 23, 1970, subject to a reservation concerning privileges and immunities. This Agreement requires members to accord limited privileges and immunities to the Bank. Section 1 of the International Organisations Act 1968, however, applies only to organisations which have at least one"foreign"member, so a Bill is required. Clause 2 will extend Section 1 of the International Organisations Act to the Caribbean Development Bank. An Order in Council to give effect to the privileges and immunities provisions of the Agreement will then be laid before Parliament and will require the Affirmative Resolution of both Houses. Clause 2 will, of course, have no effect on the privileges and immunities enjoyed by other international organisations, whether or not their members are all Commonwealth countries.

Clause 3 will amend Section 2 of the International Organisations Act 1968 to provide statutory authority for granting exemption from vehicle excise duty to the senior staff of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. As your Lordships may know, IMCO is the only United Nations specialised agency with its headquarters in London. Its activities include the securing of international agreement on measures to promote maritime safety and reduce pollution of the sea by oil. Section 2 of the 1968 Act was intended to accord financial privileges on a diplomatic scale to members of the staff of IMCO whose status is comparable to that of a diplomatic agent. There are 36 such officers in IMCO, of whom four are United Kingdom citizens or permanently resident here and so do not benefit from these privileges. However, Section 2 failed to make provision for exemption from vehicle excise duty. There was an understanding between Her Majesty's Government and IMCO that such an exemption would be accorded and as a matter of good faith this has until now been done administratively. The duty involved amounts in total to about £800 a year. If this clause becomes law, the Headquarters Agreement between the United Kingdom and IMCO will be amended to include a reference to vehicle excise duty. A draft Order to give effect to the Amendment will then be laid before Parliament.

Clause 4 substitutes for Section 12 of the Consular Relations Act 1968 a revised Section 12 set out in the Schedule to the Bill. This will enable an Order in Council to be made which will confer on Commonwealth representatives performing functions of a consular nature, and on their staffs and families, privileges and immunities on the same scale as is enjoyed by foreign consuls under the Consular Relations Act. The intention of the original Section 12 of the Consular Relations Act was to enable this to be done, but in some minor matters the powers are inadequate, or there is some doubt as to whether they are wide enough. For example, the existing provisions do not clearly cover goods imported or hydrocarbon oil purchased for the official use of a Commonwealth post. Nor do they cover members of the families or certain private servants of members of a post. The section has therefore been clarified and this has made it possible to repeal the remaining part of the Diplomatic Immunities (Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland) Act 1952. No change of policy is contained in Clause 4.

Foreign consuls and their staffs have been enjoying their privileges and immunities since the Consular Relations Act came into force on January 1 of that year and for reasons of reciprocity and good faith we are anxious that there should not he too long a delay before Commonwealth officers are brought into line. Our own posts in Commonwealth countries are already enjoying privileges and immunities on a scale comparable with that which will be accorded to Commonwealth representatives in the United Kingdom if this clause becomes law.

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will accept that this Bill is an uncontroversial measure which makes necessary amendments to our existing legislation in this field. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Lothian.)

12.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Marquess for explaining the provisions of the Bill, and for introducing the Second Reading. I note that there are no changes of practice of policy involved in the Bill. It is, as he has said, a non-controversial measure, although of course not an unimportant one, because any matters affecting diplomatic privileges in this country must be of importance to all of us.

We accept on this side that it is wise to have statutory provision to cover what are accepted and necessary administrative procedures. This, it seems to me, is the effect of Clauses 1 and 2. Clearly the extension of the appropriate privileges and immunities to the Caribbean Development Bank is something to which we on this side could not possibly take exception. On the question of Commonwealth consular servants, it is right and equitable that this area should be tidied up so that the consular servants of Commonwealth countries should enjoy the same privileges as others. It is, as the noble Marquess said, a non-controversial Bill. It does not bring about any changes of practice or policy and we on this side welcome it.

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

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