HL Deb 12 June 1973 vol 343 cc649-52

8.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the International Cocoa Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on May 22, be approved. The purpose of this Order is to give legal personality to the International Cocoa Organisation in accordance with Article 21(1) of the International Cocoa Agreement 1972. This Agreement was concluded last October following lengthy negotiations in which the United Kingdom did important work. It will enter into force by the end of this month if by then sufficient countries have ratified it or have said that they will apply it provisionally.

The aim of the Agreement is to reduce the extreme fluctuations of price to which cocoa is notoriously subject. It should therefore be a great help to those developing countries, among them Commonwealth nations such as Ghana and Nigeria, whose revenue from cocoa exports represents an important, and in some cases crucial, factor in their economies.

A decision on where the International Cocoa Organisation is to be located will not be taken until after the Agreement has entered into force. But we hope very much that it will be established in London. The practical application of the Order will be small unless the Organisation is set up here. It could then assume greater importance. In such an event it would be necessary to seek approval for another Order, conferring appropriate immunities and privileges upon the Organisation and its staff. This is because the present Order, despite its title, is, as I have said, limited to the provision of legal personality to the Organisation.

The main importance of this Order is that it must be made if we are to ratify the International Cocoa Agreement. Also in order to ratify it we must enact brief legislation in order that we can give effect to one of its economic provisions. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food expects to introduce a short Bill for this purpose today, if he has not done so already. This is a separate issue and not something with which we are now concerned. What I am commending to the House is that it should approve this Order so that the United Kingdom can, when the time comes, ratify an Agreement for which we have long worked. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft International Cocoa Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1973, laid before the House on May 22, be approved.—(Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie.

8.57 p.m.


My Lords, I understand from what the noble Baroness says that although this is called the International Cocoa Organization (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1973, it does not in point of fact confer any immunities and privileges on anybody yet. This makes what I have to say perhaps more appropriate, since it will be quite clear that I am not "gunning" for the International Cocoa Organization in distinction to any other international organisation.

On May I this year the noble Baroness sent me a very full and helpful Answer to a Written Question about the number of people in this country enjoying diplomatic immunity. I was startled by that Answer, as your Lordships may be. The number of people enjoying full diplomatic immunity, both criminal and civil, is 1,682. The number of people enjoying limited diplomatic immunity—that is to say, only criminal but not civil—is 2,760. The number of people enjoying the two types of diplomatic immunity respectively belonging not to embassies but to international organisations, is 34 and 67. Lastly, there are 200 consular or quasi consular officials enjoying diplomatic immunity. The total is 4,743. But every one of those is also entitled to claim diplomatic immunity for his family.

What shall we allow them for a family? Shall we say three dependants each? If we multiply the total by four it comes out at just under 19,000 people. Nineteen thousand people, my Lords, above the law in this country. Why? What are they doing? Why are they different from the rest? Most of them are ordinary government officials doing honest and necessary jobs. That is no reason why for their normal work they should have immunity from the normal functions of the law. Are we not coming to the point when it would save the time of Parliament if, instead of introducing this series of Orders conferring a few hundred more immunities here and there, the Government were to introduce once and for all a British People Law Observance Order which would list by name those who have to keep the law in this country and would decree that nobody else does have to do so?

I know that these Orders come under a law or a precedent which was introduced by the last Labour Government, but does the time not come when enough is enough? Would the Government shortly consider referring the whole matter to an appropriate inquiry for recommendations on when, if ever, this sort of thing should cease?

9 p.m.


My Lords, if I may briefly reply, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will make that particular speech in more detail if and when I come before this House and ask your Lordships to grant the particular immunities and privileges which would apply if the headquarters of this organisation is to be located in London. All I am asking your Lordships to do at the moment—and this follows the precedent of similar Orders which are made under the International Organisations Act—is to confer upon the organisation the legal capacities of a body corporate. These include the capacity to enter into contracts, to acquire and dispose of property and to take part in legal proceedings. The Order, no doubt the noble Lord will be glad to know, confers no additional privileges and immunities. It is a limited Order, and I commend it to your Lordships.