HL Deb 05 December 1978 vol 397 cc87-95

6.25 p.m.

Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS rose to move, That the draft African Development Bank (Privileges) Order 1978, laid before the House on 23rd November, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I shall speak at the same time to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1978. These orders, which will be made under the International Organisations Act 1968, were laid before the House on 23rd November.

The purpose of the order relating to the African Development Bank is to confer legal personality on the Bank and to exempt it from taxes on income and capital gains. Your Lordships will wish to be aware that the draft order is required to give effect to the agreement entered into by Her Majesty's Government and the African Development Bank concerning the status and privileges of the office of the bank in London. This agreement, in the form of an exchange of notes, was laid before the House on 12th October.

The African Development Bank is a regional development bank with its head- quarters in Abidjan. It was established in 1963 with a membership consisting exclusively of African States. Thus the United Kingdom is not a member. But the Bank is giving consideration to widening its membership and it is therefore possible that we might become a member in the future.

The aims of the Bank are to promote development projects for the economic and social advancement of its member States. The authorised stock of the Bank is the equivalent of about £576 million; the subscribed capital is probably about £250 million. Recent loans have been for public utilities, transport and industrial projects. But the Bank's 1977–1981 programme provides for a more active policy to aid the poorest sections by promoting the growth of agriculture and rural development.

As your Lordships will agree, these are aims which we should wish to promote as being in line with our own aid programme and policy. We are in fact giving support to the Bank through our membership of the African Development Fund, which we share with most other Western nations. The Fund was set up in 1973 to supplement the activities of the Bank. It provides finance on concessional terms for those members of the Bank who need "soft loans" for the development of their countries. In May 1973 your Lordships approved an order granting certain privileges and immunities to the Fund under section 1(1) of the International Organisations Act.

Earlier this year, the Bank decided to open an office in London to have easier access to, and to establish close links with, the principal financial markets of Europe. The Bank will not, of course, have authorised bank status and cannot therefore operate as a bank. It will, however, act as a collector and disseminator of information on capital movements and on economic information of direct interest to its members.

The draft order now before your Lordships is the first which it is proposed to make under Section 4 of the International Organisations Act. This section relates to organisations of which the United Kingdom is not a member and enables only legal personality and exemption from certain direct taxes to be accorded. The order does not, therefore, provide for immunity from jurisdiction or for the grant of tax privileges to individuals. I am, therefore, confidently able to assure your Lordships that the effect of the order on the Exchequer will be minimal, since the nature of the Bank's work here is such that it is not likely to generate any taxable income.

With your Lordships' permission I should like now to turn to the order relating to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group, which I shall move separately. This order is required to enable Her Majesty's Government to sign and give effect to an Agreement, laid before the House on 17th October, with the International Lead and Zinc Study Group, relating to its headquarters in London. The Agreement will come into force on signature. As in the case of other international commodity organisations based here, the Agreement provides that the Group shall have legal personality and certain privileges and immunities which it has been recognised are necessary for such organisations to function efficiently. Your Lordships will note that the order specifically excludes immunity from suit and legal process in the case of motor traffic (which of course includes parking) offences.

The International Lead and Zinc Study Group was set up as a result of discussions, held in 1958 and 1959 under United Nations auspices, between representatives of Governments which were substantially interested in the production or consumption of lead and zinc or in trade in these metals. The Group's function is to provide a forum for the exchange and collection of statistical and technical information to assist the industries in the countries concerned in planning towards matching the supply and demand of both metals. Over 30 countries including the United Kingdom are now members of the Group.

Lead and zinc are metals essential to our industries. But the amount we mine is very small in relation to our consumption—some 240,000 metric tonnes of each last year. We therefore have to import almost the whole of our requirements and it is thus in our best interests that there is stability in production, trade and price. To this end, the United Kingdom played an active role in the setting up of the Group and takes a full part in its deliberations.

On its establishment, the United Nations provided the Group with accommodation and services free of charge at the UN Secretariat Building in New York. Subsequently the decision was taken to move the headquarters to London to obtain better access to the other international commodity organisations already established here. The Group's small staff of five persons has been in London since April last year. I hope that your Lordships will approve the draft order, thereby demonstrating support for the valuable work of the International Lead and Zinc Study Group. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft African Development Bank (Privileges) Order 1978, laid before the House on 23rd November, be approved.—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, if I may take the orders in the order in which the noble Lord has taken them, I should like to thank him first of all for bringing them to the House and to say, secondly, that it is interesting to hear that the Government are considering membership of the African Development Bank in addition to their commitment to the African Development Fund. I take it that this is the result of Dr. Kwame Fawdor's very forceful personal campaign in May in Libreville, during the course of which, incidentally, he made some not very flattering references to the extent of our commitment to that fund. As the Development Bank seems to concentrate on the right end of development aid—that is to say, upon infrastructure and developing an agricultural economy which can offer employment to large numbers rather than upon great leaps into Western technology, which have a disrupting effect on the societies that often receive them—I think we should welcome this small gesture to making its job easier.

However, what I think will take a little more time is consideration of the provisions of the order for the International Lead and Zinc Study Group, which I think anybody concerned in these affairs will be glad to see coming to London, which is increasingly the centre of the international commodity market. Although this is a small body, the order applied to it embraces very large principles. The order not only gives immunities and privileges to the study group as a body corporate—and to these I shall return—but also grants them to its employees. I am glad to hear the noble Lord confirm that these privileges will not on this occasion, as so often in the past, include immunity from traffic offences, parking tickets and so on, which do nothing but cause infuriation to the population who suffer at the hands of those who break our laws. But unless immunity is waived by the secretary-general of the group, or by the group itself, these employees cannot be prosecuted for anything done or left undone in the exercise of their functions. That may be necessary and I am sure the group will take care not to abuse that particular privilege.

But there are others which I think many of your Lordships would covet if they knew of them. Officers of the group, whether locally recruited Britons or not, are to be exempt from United Kingdom income tax on their salaries. That is a covetable immunity and one which I find it difficult to justify in practical terms. I have no doubt that it will be an invaluable aid in recruitment, should that prove difficult. The noble Lord will be able to tell us how many people will be employed by this agency.

Turning again to the group itself, I find that two of the proposed privileges to be vested in the group are of particular interest. I see that their archives are to be inviolable. I take it that that means not only that they will not be subject to casual search or to distraint; it must mean also that no transaction in which the group have taken part can ever be investigated by any British statutory or other body unless they voluntarily submit to investigation themselves. I find it odd that such a contingency has to be guarded against. But oddest of all is the fact that a similar inviolability is to be bestowed upon their premises. I cannot see any immediately obvious reason for that. I do not suppose that the researches of these gentlemen will be so controversial that they must have an instant refuge from the howling mob, or that they, in spite of their tax-free salaries, will live so far above their means that they must have permanent sanctuary from the bailiffs. I make those suggestions by way of a joke, because I do not regard this as a very serious matter in this context. But I do think that, though these privileges are traditional, I understand, for this type of body, one should be very chary of looking at tradition as a guide in every instance, because we in this House have to have an eye to general principles as well as to the particular.

In sub-paragraph (1)(b) of paragraph 13 of the order I find what I take to be a very dangerous principle indeed, and that is that all representatives accredited to this group from member countries are to have diplomatic inviolability as regards their luggage, their personal baggage. We live in an age of the miniaturisation of weapons and of the proliferation of violence, especially political violence, of which we see increasingly frequent evidence even on our own streets. Our security forces are hard put to it to do their jobs and to maintain any sort of effective surveillance over the secret importation of arms and ammunition into this country. I do not for one moment suppose that the handful of staff of this group, who are doubtless respectable people, will avail themselves of this sort of opportunity to import what we should not wish imported into this country. But we are talking about representatives; I think we are talking about 47, and, according to what the noble Lord told us earlier, probably many more in the near future. We are getting into numbers it is difficult to survey, and if you have a basket of eggs as big as that the danger is always that one of them is going to be bad. I do not think, therefore, that we ought to continue as a matter of formal convention to give this sort of immunity to every international agency which may spring up within our shores.

Of course, we on this side will not obstruct this order on that account, but I do ask Her Majesty's Government to consider earnestly and urgently whether, when they next bring an order of a similar nature before us, they cannot delete or curtail the equivalent provision. For my part, I shall be considering very seriously what we on our side should do if they have not done this, because I do not think one should give a rubber stamp free passport through customs and security surveillance to large numbers of people totally unknown to us at the time we passed the order.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was discussing the inviolability in relation to the Lead and Zinc Study Group. I think it is the case that this group is being given greater immunity, greater privilege than was granted to the international Rubber Study Group in the International Rubber Study Group Order 1978, which must have been quite recent. It is not easy at first sight to apprehend why a lead and zinc study group should be granted greater privilege than a rubber study group. One wonders, have we got here a tendency to widen the immunities and privileges that are being granted as time goes by?

I think there is a good deal of disquiet at the apparent growing number of people in this country who have immunity of one kind or another. I do not know whether the Minister can answer this point straight away, but it would be interesting to know what is the reason for this increase in immunity that has happened so quickly after immunities were granted to what seems to be a very similar sort of organisation.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I appreciate the basic welcome accorded to these two orders by the official spokesman for the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and, if I may say so, the pertinent observations to which we have just listened from the Liberal Benches. To take at least some of the points they have raised in those two speeches, I was asked how many employees are involved in the lead and zinc section in London. The noble Lord is right; at the moment there are five, possibly increasing to six, perhaps seven. In regard to how many of these are United Kingdom citizens, I believe all of them are except the director. On the point about traffic offences, which I agree has for a long time exercised the sensitivities of the rest of the population of this country, it is true that these people will not be immune as a result of these orders from traffic offences, and indeed parking offences are regarded as traffic offences.

On the question of inviolability, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised a point which from one point of view is difficult to justify in all its applications, but, on the other hand, if I may espouse what he declined to espouse, a very basic Conservative principle, there is here a tradition. The Government of which I am a member has, of course, a well-known regard for practical tradition. Here this is practicality. There may well be room, as the noble Lord suggested at the end of his speech, for a look at these arrangements, these traditions, these conventions which have grown up. We do not believe at the moment that the time has come for that. Possibly in the fairly distant future, if there is a change of Government, such a look may be undertaken. But we are looking at them currently without engaging in any specific review.

With regard to inviolability itself, it is a standard clause in agreements with international organisations. It docs ensure protection for the premises and their contents. Wherever such organisations are housed this is provided. We can hardly do less in this country. Before the lead and zinc section came here they were housed in the United Nations Secretariat building in New York, where, by virtue of being housed there, they enjoyed this inviolability. It could hardly be taken from them when they moved from New York to London. This is a practical tradition which I would find it very hard to depart from without very careful consideration, as to both the impact on the attraction to this country of organisations of this kind—and it is a good thing for this country that it should be regarded as suitable for the operation of such organisations—and the difficulty of relating it to international practice. The authorities of the host State may not indeed enter premises without permission of the head of the organisation, hut such permission is normally given readily for essential purposes such as fire prevention, proper repair of services and so on. The inviolability really is aimed at the protection of premises and contents from unauthorised or indeed criminal attentions.

A point was raised about the inviolability of baggage. This is granted only to member Government representatives under Article 13(d) and not to employees of, for instance, the study group. I appreciate the noble Lord's concern these days that inviolate baggage may be used from time to time for unauthorised purposes and even very dangerous ones. I can only assure him and the House that, if there is suspicion that baggage contains unauthorised articles, Her Majesty's Government can require that such baggage be opened in the presence of representatives; and that is the position in regard to diplomats as well as members of organisations such as the one we are discussing. I would add at this stage that my Departments and related Departments are, indeed, considering this point. The noble Lord, in fact, has voiced a concern which naturally is shared generally in official circles in this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, again as regards the Lead and Zinc Group, asked why it appeared to have been given greater immunity than the Rubber Group. The only answer one can give to that is that the Rubber Group here has been, for a long time, without immunity and the Lead and Zinc Group had inviolability in New York. However, I agree that there is an apparent contradiction here and I take note of what he has said without commitment as to any formal review or inquiry. Indeed, I do not think that that was what the noble Lord had in mind.

The value of these short and, if I may say so, informed debates on these orders, is similar to the value accruing from debates on Community orders. No one in the House wishes to obstruct or, indeed, reject the orders. They are, very much on balance, inevitable, necessary and indeed rewarding. However, it provides an opportunity for noble Lords who have studied these matters to put afresh certain points of practical concern, and I welcome very much the spirit and content of the two speeches that we have just heard. If I have left out any point of fact or interpretation which either noble Lords raised, I am sure that they will allow me to communicate with them through the usual channels, of which the Post Office forms part.

On Question, Motion agreed to.