HL Deb 28 June 1974 vol 352 cc1723-36

11.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why the Ministry of Defence decided to remove from R.A.F. Manston a civilian helicopter company, after it has operated successfully for three years as an Air/Sea Rescue Service; what guarantee the Ministry of Defence can give that an R.A.F. Air/Sea Rescue Service will not be withdrawn again, without prior arrangement for a civilian operator to fill the role; and what financial effect will this new arrangement have on the local ratepayers.


My Lords, the Ministry of Defence has not removed the civilian helicopter company from Manston. There is a military requirement for a Royal Air Force Search and Rescue helicopter detachment to be stationed at Manston. It will be available for civil rescue emergencies and in these circumstances it was decided by the Department of Trade that the present civilian helicopter rescue service was not required in addition. The civilian contract is therefore not being renewed when it expires in September. The R.A.F. detachment will be regarded by the Ministry of Defence as a high-priority unit, but in the unlikely event of it having to be redeployed from Manston, sufficient notice will be given to the Department of Trade to enable a satisfactory alternative search and rescue service to be provided. The new arrangement should have no financial effect on the local ratepayers.


My Lords, I am grateful for that detailed reply. I am sure that in the reply, the guarantee is perhaps the most important issue, as there was apprehension that the Royal Air Force would be forced yet again to withdraw the service they have previously provided. Is the noble Lord aware that, over the past few years, the private helicopter company has saved some 159 lives from the sea? Is he further aware that the team of 12 which has taken part in these operations and which has kept together for these three years, will now, sadly, be broken up? Can the noble Lord say whether the policy is for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy to supply the helicopter Air/Sea Rescue Service around the coast, or whether it is the intention to explore the possibility of employing further civilian companies?


My Lords, I am glad to be able to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, about the value of the services provided by the company. It is accepted on all sides that the civilian company has provided an excellent service. We expect the Royal Air Force to provide at least as good a service to the civilian community—as well as being operational in the Service itself —and possibly better from certain Services' technical requirements. As to present policy, I understand that the general practice is to use Royal Naval and Royal Air Force detachments for Air/Sea Rescue operations, both for operational and for civilian reasons. As to the future, I have no doubt that where it is necessary to redeploy such detachments rather than face a gap in the provision of service to civilians in danger, consideration will certainly be given to the employment of civilian contractors.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could advise the House of the cost of the services? It is noted that, with regard to the civilian company, the D.T.I. paid for the service, not the ratepayers. Can the noble Lord tell us what the situation is with regard to the Armed Services? Is this something which the D.1.I. will pay to the Armed Services? If so, how do the costs compare?


My Lords, it would be difficult to compare the costs of the two services because of the different nature of the two and, to some extent, the different provisions. I understand the direct operating cost of the Royal Air Force detachment in this case is not expected to be significantly higher than the actual cost of the civilian I service, but in fairness to the civilian firm, it is difficult to compare the two. As to inter-departmental payments, I will have to look into this and give the noble Earl the proper answer. My impression is that the Royal Air Force bears this cost on its own Estimate, but there may be a transfer which I think the noble Earl ought to be told about in terms of the questions he has put.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what type of helicopter will be operated by the R.A.F. on this service, and whether it will be equipped with Decca navigator equipment so essential for search and rescue operations in bad weather?


My Lords, I understand that the R.A.F. will be employing two Wessex helicopters. These have a somewhat better range, higher speed, better endurance and greater lifting capacity than the civil Whirlwinds at present used on this station. As to equipment, my information is that the R.A.F. aircraft will be fitted with communications equipment—I could not identify the proprietary make at the moment—which will provide the same links with the coastguard and other rescue organisations as the present civil aircraft.












11.21 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move en bloc the eleven Immunities and Privileges Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper. Of course, if any noble Lord objects to this procedure, I shall to the extent desired move the individual Motions separately.

These draft Orders will all be made under the International Organisations Act 1968. With the exception of the last but one on the list, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, these Orders are basically revisions of earlier Orders conferring privileges and immunities made under Acts of Parliament replaced by the 1968 Act. The exception is that the European Molecular Biology Order does only one thing, that is, to confer legal personality upon the laboratory; that Order does not refer to privileges and immunities but simply to conferring legal personality on the laboratory.

The 1968 Act enabled certain privileges which had hitherto been granted to international organisations by administrative means to be conferred by Orders in Council. Since then Orders have in fact been made conferring these privileges on five international organisations with their headquarters in London, including the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. The privileges in question are refund of the customs duty element in the price paid for petrol and heating oil for official use, and duty free importation of the personal effects of staff members of the organisations on their arrival to work in this country.

I referred to five organisations which. in pursuance of the Act of 1968, had had these immunities and privileges conferred upon them by Order in Council. Unlike those organisations, however, those which are the subject of the Orders now under discussion do not have even offices, let alone headquarters, in London; so these provisions, which are really replacement orders by Order in Council for what was previously done by administrative action, will have little practical effect.

The introduction of car tax and value added tax by the Finance Act 1972 has necessitated a change in the new Orders to provide relief from these taxes in place of previous references to purchase tax. This is again revisionary. Similarly, the Orders contain transitional provisions required by the eventual replacement of the National Insurance Acts and the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts by the Social Security Act 1973; the replacement of the former National Insurance provisions by last year's Social Security Act is again transitional and revisionary.

In addition, I am glad to say that the occasion for revision of these Orders has provided a welcome opportunity of introducing more uniformity of wording, corresponding as closely as possible with the terms of the 1968 Act. Noble Lords who have looked at the various Orders will see that the wording is very much common form. Where it varies it is in respect of the minor variations between the various Agreements to which we are party. I should, therefore, like to assure your Lordships that the making of these Orders is really a tidying-up process and involves no extension of the privileges and immunities which are required to be granted under international Agreements to which we are party in respect of organisations of which the United Kingdom has been a member for many years. Nor do they in any way expand at all significantly the number of personnel who would qualify for the somewhat restrictive privileges and immunities which these Orders cover.

In the case of the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations. however, where we are making a single consolidated Order to replace twelve separate Orders—a very useful exercise in itself—we have not hitherto taken steps to give effect to revised texts of two of the Annexes to the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialised Agencies. The second revised text of Annex II requires privileges and immunities to be accorded to representatives of Associate Members of the Food and Agriculture Organisation to the same extent as to representatives of State Members of that Organisation. The present Order enables us to give effect to this Amendment, an Amendment to the Annex to the Convention, in the same way as, as far back as 1955, by Order we gave effect to a similar Amendment to Annex VII of that Convention relating to the World Health Organisation. The revised texts of both Annexes, II and VII, also require that high officer status be conferred upon Assistant Directors-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and on Assistant Directors-General and Regional Directors of the World Health Organisation. This is a requirement of the Agreement to which we have long been party; we take the opportunity now under the revised Orders to put this right. The present Order will, therefore, enable us to accept the revised texts of the Annexes.

The Order relating to the International Atomic Energy Agency will enable the United Kingdom to withdraw two reservations we made when we accepted the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of that Agency. The effect of the Order will be to bring the officials and experts of the Agency into line with those of other Specialised Agencies and without discrimination against citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. It will not, however, mean that high officers of United Kingdom nationality would enjoy any additional immunities in the United Kingdom. The withdrawal of the second reservation will similarly mean that, as in the case of the Specialised Agencies as a whole, an officer acting for a high officer during the latter's absence from duty will be accorded on a temporary basis while he is so acting the privileges and immunities appropriate to the higher post. All this is in line with agreement and practice, of course.

The Order relating to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (O.E.C.D.) rectifies an omission in the 1961 Order, which it replaces in fact, by providing for the very limited immunities required by the Convention on the Establishment of a Security Control in the Field of Nuclear Energy to be conferred upon judges of the Tribunal established by the Convention, and on representatives, counsel and advocates appearing before the Tribunal. This is something of an academic point, very much a tidying up operation, because the Tribunal has never met in this country and the absence of this provision has had no practical effect so far. However, the opportunity is now being taken to ensure that Her Majesty's Government are able to fulfil their legal obligations under the Convention should the Tribunal ever meet here.

These are the point that I should like to draw to your Lordships attention. The exercise is generally a revisionary one, as I have stressed, and I do not think that there are any other particular points I would wish to raise concerning at least ten of the eleven Orders which are, as I have described them, replacement Orders. The eleventh Order is that relating to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, and the purpose of that Order is somewhat different from that of the other ten. The genesis of this is rather interesting. As a result of a decision by the European Molecular Biology Conference established in 1969 to further international co-operation in molecular biology, an Agreement was drawn up in May, 1973, providing for the establishment of a Molecular Biology Laboratory as an intergovernmental institution. Its purpose is to permit co-operation among European States in fundamental research, in the development of instrumentation, and in advanced teaching in molecular biology and related fields of research.

An important application of such research is the experiments being made into the causes of cancer. I understand that the activities of the Laboratory will be concentrated in particular on work not normally or easily carried out in national institutions. To expedite the setting up and the work of this important laboratory it is necessary, by this Order, to give to it corporate status, the legal capacities of a body corporate. As to progress I am glad to inform your Lordships that, apart from the United Kingdom, nine other States have signed the Agreement and four others have ratified. Before it can come into force ratification is required by a majority of the Parties to the European Molecular Biology Conference, including the State in which the laboratory will have its headquarters. We expect that by this autumn the required majority of ratifications, and the required percentage of contributions by ratifying Member States, will have been achieved, and that this very important development in international research for health purposes, among other things, will be implemented. I therefore beg to move that these Orders be agreed to en bloc.

Moved, That the Draft Customs Cooperation Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft European Space Research Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft Specialised Agencies of the United Nations (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft United Nations and International Court of Justice (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft Central Treaty Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft Asian Development Bank (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft International Atomic Energy Agency (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.

That the Draft North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on June 11, be approved.—(Lord Goronwy Roberts.)

11.34 a.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for the detailed explanation that he has given to the House of the purpose of these Orders. I am sure that he is right to take all eleven Orders together rather than ploughing through them individually, particularly since he has told us that ten out of the eleven, with only minor exceptions, involve no extension of privilege or immunity to those already accorded to, or enjoyed by, persons connected with the organisations concerned. The eleventh Order, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Immunities and Privileges) Order, I was interested to hear, has a connection with cancer research, a subject with which I was connected for a number of years. Some noble Lords in this House will be aware that the United Kingdom is regarded, outside the United States, as one of the great international centres of research into the causes of cancer. This is perhaps the last great unsolved problem facing medical and scientific research, and if this Order for co-operation within Europe can be a further step in that direction, I am sure that it is something all of your Lordships would welcome. Having said that, I have no further points to raise. It may be that other noble Lords have. So far as I am concerned, there is no need to delay the House further.

11.36 a.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend one or two questions about certain of these Orders, and, in particular, the Order which has just been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, concerning the Molecular Biology Laboratory. I understand that this is certainly concerned in some way with cancer, though I think that it would be dangerous and unwise to assume that the object of the laboratory was to solve that problem. I think that the object is much wider than that; it is to study the whole problem of molecular biology, using the most advanced scientific methods.

I should like to ask my noble friend whether the signing of this Order means that Her Majesty's Government will now be definitely throwing their weight behind the formation and setting up of this laboratory because, as I understand it, in this laboratory they will be requiring extremely elaborate equipment of a nature and scale which it would be difficult to maintain in a single country. It is a little like some of the nuclear energy research laboratories where enormous sums of money have to be spent. If I may mention one instrument, for instance—I am not familiar with the details of the programme of the laboratory—I am quite sure that they will be wanting very high-powered electron microscopes. The sort of electron microscope that is used in an ordinary laboratory may cost £50,000—the cost has been going up steadily—but I believe that the sort of one that they will want to use in this laboratory may cost millions. I think that this point will apply to a lot of their equipment. They will be attempting to solve the most basic problems concerned with human life. Because of this, it is really important that Her Majesty's Government, having agreed to go ahead, should throw all their energies into ensuring that this laboratory is properly maintained.

I notice that although this is referred to as an Immunities and Privileges Order, there are no immunities and privileges concerned with this European Molecular Biology Laboratory. I wonder why that is? Is it because it has not yet been set up, or is it because it will not require them? I should have thought they might require such privileges, but perhaps I am entirely wrong about that. The other matter I want to raise concerns the European Space Research Organisation Order. Here we have something which has been in existence for some time, and which has been doing important work. Does the continuation of this Order mean that Her Majesty's Government are resolute in seeing that this European Space Research Organisation is properly maintained and supported?

11.39 a.m.


My Lords, I should be the last person in your Lordships' House to raise any objection to the establishment of international scientific bodies in the United Kingdom. On the contrary, I should welcome them, as indeed is the view of the Members of your Lordships' House. I was absent for a moment when my noble friend began his speech (I had to reply to a telephone message), and, therefore, I am not certain whether he furnished the information that I am anxious to request now, and for which I have been anxious for quite a long time; namely, how many persons who come from foreign countries and who are resident in the United Kingdom are the recipients of immunities and privileges? I suspect they run into many thousands. Occasionally difficulties occur. Incidents are reported in the newspapers of people, who are associated either with Embassies or with other bodies of an international character, who are responsible for misdemeanours, or alleged misdemeanours, but who escape simply because they happen to have the privilege of immunity. I should like to know, as indeed I have indicated already, how many are concerned and whether there is a full and complete reciprocation in other countries.

On the second point, I am deeply sus, picious. I make the confession that I have not delved into the matter sufficiently to enable me to produce any evidence, but my suspicion inclines me to say to Members of your Lordships' House that in countries like China, maybe Japan, particularly the Arabian countries representatives from the United Kingdom, whether associated with Embassies or with other bodies, are not the recipients of the privileges and immunities which we provide for those who come from those countries. I am all in favour of good relations—I think they are essential—but this matter of privileges may be extending too far.

The other day, in the course of a debate in your Lordships' House associated with the Rent Bill, I ventured to put a question about the number of persons associated with foreign Embassies in London who were occupying premises to a considerable extent and, as a result, causing inflation in rent prices and the cost of housing accommodation. Where I live, in a part of St. Johns Wood, I know of this because I hear from time to time of people who are able to pay what we regard, some of us who cannot afford to pay inflated rents, as exorbitant rents. There is no difficulty, because these people do not pay out of their own pockets. The rents are paid and the charges are met by their Embassies and the organisations which they represent. It may be thought by Members of your Lordships' House that this is a kind of niggling objection, but it is not to my mind. I think it is a matter that ought to be considered. I repeat, if necessary, that I welcome people from abroad engaged in foreign Embassies and scientific organisations. It is of the utmost advantage to have the latter. On the other hard, there ought to be reciprocation, and perhaps my noble friend could advise me on that point.

11.44 a.m.


My Lords, to begin with, if I may deal briefly with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. I am sure that nobody in your Lordships' House—not I, certainly—would regard the point he has raised as being a niggling one. It is essential that we keep a balance. On the one hand, we should welcome into our country people who are about diplomatic and inter-Governmental business which is of assistance to all countries, and provide the kind of immunity and privilege which is common form in all countries which participate in this kind of international activity, while on the other hand we should guard so far as we can against any excess or any abuse of any immunity or privilege so granted.

I have some figures here which I will give to the noble Lord, but no doubt he will wish to have more and I shall do my utmost to supplement the figures I am now able to give him. The total of 2,114 officials with their families covering the Embassies, as well as international organisations here, accords well with what would be the position in a comparable country in Europe or in another part of the world. They have the diplomatic immunity and privilege status. There are a further 3,400 officials who are entitled to much more restricted privileges and immunities and, in any case, all of them restricted to their official business. These are figures which to some people might present certain difficulties: some thousands, as my noble friend quite rightly said. However, I do not think they are at all out of line with statistical experience in other, comparable, countries, as I have said.

I was extremely glad to hear the noble Lord emphasise the importance of attracting to this company, if we can by reasonable, though not excessive inducements, inter-Governmental organisations. This is of great advantage to us in every way and many of us feel that so far we have not been successful in this. There are a number of reasons. There is the point he raised about accommodation. It is difficult to find housing and other accommodation for inter-Governmental organisations of this kind in London. Indeed, we have no Government conference centre, as so many other countries have. It is an advantage to us to attract these organisations, though I fully agree with my noble friend that we should keep a careful watch both over the numbers and over the extent to which the privileges are granted when we do this. I shall endeavour to supplement the figures I have given, to break them down and add to them, in the appropriate form, either by circulating them or perhaps by responding to a Question for Written Answer, because I should like to give as full a picture as possible of the position.

Turning to my noble friend who raised a number of points about the molecular biology laboratory, of course the purpose of this extremely important international and European development ("European" in the sense which my noble friend Lord Shinwell and all of us would agree was appropriate) is to engage in fundamental research; and I need not spell out to my noble friend—least of all to him—what that means. As he said, this includes a great many things, all of them desirable, I am sure, in this field. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said also, most hopefully it has an important connection with the conquest of cancer. While we do not want to put this too highly, as he reminded the House, neither should we minimise the possibilities of this laboratory making a substantial contribution to the conquest of this dread disease.

On the point about the extension of privileges and immunities (the very restricted ones in common form with the other 10 Orders which he raised), I understand that this cannot be considered until the host country has ratified the decision of the conference. In the meantime what we can do is give to this laboratory, by Order, so far as we are concerned, corporate status. The privileges and immunities would follow much on those lines, and, we hope very soon. As I have said, we would welcome its very early establishment. As to the European Space programme, which is the subject of one of these Orders, I entirely agree with my noble friend that its intended quality as an organisation is comparable to that of the molecular biology laboratory. Anything that we can do, always bearing in mind the cautionary words uttered by my noble friend Lord Shinwell, to promote organisations of this kind, I am sure we would all wish to do.

On Question, Motions agreed to.