HL Deb 11 February 1975 vol 356 cc1216-23

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, these Draft Orders will be made under the International Organisations Act 1968. The Draft Order relating to the Weather Centre is similar to that made in 1972 for the International Tin Council and to Orders for the other international commodity organisations in London. There are some differences between these Orders, which I shall mention in a moment. In addition to the United Kingdom, 15 European countries have signed the Convention establishing the Weather Centre and four have ratified it. It will come into force when two-thirds of the signatories, including the United Kingdom, representing 80 per cent. of the financial contributions, have ratified it. The Order is necessary so that we can ratify the Convention and hasten its entry into force.

My Lords, the Weather Centre is now establishing its headquarters in the United Kingdom. Our offer to act as host State was accepted after long and difficult negotiations in which we competed with several other countries. We are making a site available at Shinfield Park, near Reading and will construct a suitable building free of charge. The running costs will be met from the budget of the organisation to which we at present contribute about 16 per cent. The Centre's main purpose will be to improve mediumrange weather forecasts for Europe. It will also carry out research into forecasting techniques and provide advanced training for the staff of the meteorological services of member States. It is expected that there will be considerable economic and financial benefits for those industries such as agriculture, construction and shipping, which are dependent on the weather.

I referred earlier to certain features of this Order which are different from earlier Orders. First, in order to assert its immunity from jurisdiction, the Centre will have to give notice within 15 days after receiving requests for waiver of immunity that it will not do so, otherwise its immunity lapses. Second, the Order will permit attachment of earnings orders to be made against the Centre in respect of any of its officers and this will enable a judgment debt to be enforced by attaching earnings of an officer of the Centre, and is therefore a further important limitation upon immunity. Third, the representatives of member States—that is, the senior delegates of each member State —will not be immune from jurisdiction for traffic offences. Previous Orders granted immunity to such representatives, although officers and experts attached to organisations were liable in respect of traffic offences. No person in this Centre will have immunity for traffic offences.

Fourth, no personnel of the Centre will have privileges and immunities of the kind enjoyed by diplomats. By this I mean privileges and immunities in their personal, as opposed to their official, capacity. The Centre is a technical body and the need has not been shown for such immunities or privileges to be granted to any of its personnel. They will in fact have only such privileges and immunities as will enable them to come freely to this country, bring their possessions with them and exercise their functions without restraint.

The second Order is for the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund which was set up by an International Convention signed by the United Kingdom on 18th December 1971. Before we can ratify the Convention an Older is necessary to confer on the Fund the legal capacities of a body corporate, and such limited fiscal provisions as are required by the Convention. Parliament has taken the necessary powers in the Merchant Shipping Act 1974 to implement the other provisions of the Convention. The present Order is based on precedents, such as the Order of 1972, to recall a recent one, regarding INTELSAT.

The need for a fund to give compensation to States and persons suffering from oil pollution was shown by the "Torrey Canyon" incident in 1967 which led to the adoption in 1969 of an International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage. The 1969 Convention was supplemented in 1971 by the Convention establishing the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund from which this Order emanates. The Fund will be financed by levies imposed on a proportionate basis on persons or bodies in the contracting States who receive a minimum of 150,000 tons or more per annum of crude oil or fuel oil by sea. Compensation for oil pollution damage will be paid by the Fund to claimants in cases where, either the shipowner was not liable, or the liability was not met, or the damage exceeds the shipowner's liability under the previous arrangement; that is to say, under the 1969 Liability Convention. The Liability Convention and now the Fund Convention together have been welcomed by other Governments. Many other States have signed the Conventions and we hope it will not be long before both of them are together in force.

The location of the Fund's headquarters will be decided at the first meeting of the Assembly of the Fund. We hope that this, too, will be located in London. The Draft Order does not give the Fund immunity from jurisdiction, but it provides only that its premises, the goods which it imports, and the goods and services it buys in this country in order to fulfil its functions, shall be free of United Kingdom taxation. This follows the long-established principle, internationally agreed, and to which we have always subscribed, that a State should not derive undue fiscal benefits from the funds of an international organisation just because it is the host to that organisation.

Finally, the International Cocoa Organisation Order would replace the two previous Orders of 1973 in respect of the International Cocoa Organisation which has now been established in London for more than a year. Those Orders gave the organisation legal personality and gave certain tax exemptions to it, and to its employees, as required by the International Cocoa Agreement of 1972—that is, the Agreement to which we and other countries were signatories—and these exemptions flowed from the basic Agreement to which we were subscribers. A Headquarters Agreement has now been negotiated between the United Kingdom and the Organisation similar to that concluded in 1968 with the International Coffee Organisation, also located in London. The two organisations have similar internal structures and regulations, and it is therefore appropriate that they and the persons connected with them should be treated in the same way. The scales of privileges and immunities laid down in the respective Headquarters Agreements provide for this. The present Order—that is, the one relating to the International Cocoa Organisation—is necessary to enable us to give effect to the Headquarters Agreement.

I hope that the House will approve these Orders and thus demonstrate this country's support for the very useful work to be done by these three organisations, two of which are already located in this country, and, in regard to the third of which we have strong hopes that it, too, may be located here. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on 5th December 1974, be approved.

That the Draft European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974, laid before the House on 5th December 1974, be approved.

That the Draft International Cocoa Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1975, laid before the House on 31st January, be approved.—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for giving the House such a detailed explanation of what these three Orders contain. We on this side of the House have no objection to the Orders being taken together, or to the Orders themselves. We are glad to hear that traffic offences are not included in the immunities and privileges granted to the officers of the various organisations. However, I have a few questions to ask of the noble Lord in relation to these Orders. For instance, how many countries have actually ratified the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage? I gather that very few countries have, in fact, ratified the Convention. Further, by how much has the number of 2,114 officials and their families—who cover embassies and international organisations which have diplomatic immunity—increased? This figure was given by the noble Lord himself in this House on 28th June. Could he tell the House by how much this figure has increased, not only through these Orders but actually since that date?

On a more detailed point which is general to all three Orders—but I would refer only to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund Order—in Article 5 the Order exempts the organisation, from taxes, other than customs duties and taxes on the importation of goods, and yet in Article 8 the Fund is exempt from all customs duty paid on any hydrocarbon oil …". Can the noble Lord tell the House why only hydrocarbon oil and not any goods which they may purchase and which have been imported from abroad? Otherwise we welcome the Orders.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for welcoming the fact that we are breaking new ground by not repeating, in the case of the European Weather Centre, the traffic immunities which have been the subject of such criticism in this House and in another place and as to which on more than one occasion I have said that I will take careful note of what noble Lords have said. We have taken very careful note. We hope in the future to negotiate similar agreements based on these Conventions. We cannot, of course, recall those which we have agreed to in the past. It would certainly be difficult retrospectively, with the number of countries involved, to retrace those Agreements, but this is the beginning of a new era in privileges and immunities for international organisations.

On the noble Earl's second point regarding the increase in numbers, on the last occasion on which I took Orders of this kind through the House I gave the figures for the total number of diplomatic and other levels of staff. I will not repeat those. If I may, in response perhaps to a Question for Written Answer, I should like to set out the extra numbers involved in the various categories concerning the various kinds of immunities and privileges. I have them here, but I think it would be of interest to everybody if they were set out in tabular form.

Regarding the third point, the difference in one of the Orders between Article 5 and Article 8, I think this is an inherent difference. I think the question of hydrocarbon oil is separate from that covered in Article 5, but I will study it in the light of what the noble Earl has said.


Article 5 is a general point. Article 8 is specific, but it could be included in Article 5.


My Lords, I do not think they contradict or deny each other. Article 5 is a generalised clause covering goods and services generally. Article 8 is, I believe, related specifically to hydrocarbon oils. I should like to see whether there is something in what the noble Earl says.


My Lords, could the noble Lord clear up one point? It does not seem to be quite clear from the exchanges between the two Front Benches whether it is only the weather men who have this traffic immunity or whether it is all three organisations.


My Lords, the "weather men", as the noble Lord puts it, come in for these very limited and indeed, reduced immunities and privileges under this Order relating to the European Weather Forecasts Centre. In regard to the International Cocoa Organisation, they are here already and they will also be granted limited privileges and immunities flowing from the Agreements we have signed. In regard to the Fund relating to oil pollution, this Order does not provide for personal immunities and privileges because that is not its objective. There may well be a need for an Order to be placed before both Houses in this way relating to any immunities and privileges which may be seen to be necessary in regard to the organisation set up to deal with oil pollution payments.


My Lords, I may have missed the answer to one of the questions which my noble friend asked. Can the noble Lord give us the number of countries which have signed the Oil Pollution Compensation Convention?


My Lords, not at the moment. I think I have the information here—I was trying to chase it. I will make it available to the noble Lord and indeed to the whole House in the appropriate way.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether there is any special reason why the weathermen are coming to this country? Is it because of our remarkable weather, or is there any other advantage? By the way, what is it going to cost us?


My Lords, there is always a considerable continuing advantage to a host country which is successful in attracting an international organisation of this kind. As I said, there was acute competition among a number of countries for this particular organisation. It will be a recognition of the substantial tradition of scholarship and research in this matter which this country possesses. The Centre is to be located very close to the University of Reading, which has a very good tradition of field and hydrological study, and close to the whole complex of London specialised centres. Host countries, of course, compete for such organisations by offering locations. We have offered land which is held by the Crown and which is in fact part of our own "Met" Office land. In a sense, it does not cost us anything; it will be available for building a proper Centre for this European Weather Centre.

Negotiations on the size of the building are proceeding now, but whatever the cost there will be continuing economic advantage to us. After all there will be something like 125 staff from various countries who will be paid from a common pool only 16 per cent. of which will be provided by this country, and 84 per cent. of which will therefore be made available in other currency. To that extent it will be an invisible earner. They will, of course, be qualified men and woment and will be fairly well paid. They will need to eat and drink and presumably to be merry, especially when they consider the vicissitudes of the English weather.


My Lords, I understand from my noble friend that these 125 staff will be well paid, yet they will use their financial advantages to go abroad for their holidays where they will get better weather.


My Lords that is always possible, but the loss in that direction is a fraction of the loss from the fact that so many British people go abroad for their holidays.


My Lords, may I express appreciation of the Minister's last answer. I have worked and suffered through a period in which we in this country seem to make a fetish of not welcoming international organisations and I think the present Government on the contrary are to be congratulated on advertising our suitability as a home for them. In saying this, I have to express our regret that the behaviour of many of my former colleagues, not from this country, has necessitated the withdrawal of the traffic immunities.


My Lords, I very much welcome the informed remarks of my noble friend Lord GoreBooth. I would in fairness say that the coming of this particular Centre to this country is very largely due to the personal efforts of Mr. Edward Heath, who was formerly Prime Minister, who was very keen indeed that this Organisation should come here and who succeeded in persuading other countries to agree to that course.

On Question, Motions agreed to.