HL Deb 26 July 1978 vol 395 cc866-71

3.14 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (Lord Goronwy-Roberts) rose to move, That the Draft European Space Agency (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1978, laid before the House on 13th June, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order will be made under the International Organisations Act 1968. The order was first laid before the House on 13th June. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments drew the special attention of the House to the order as originally drafted on the ground that there were doubts about the vires.

We considered very seriously the report of the Joint Committee, and while we were in no doubt about the vires of the order as it was originally drafted, we decided to withdraw it so that it could be amended to accord with the Committee's views. The redrafted order was laid before the House on 10th July, and it is that order which is now before your Lordships. In saying that, I hope I have shown that the Government attach great importance to the work of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and are ready to take the fullest account of their observations.

The purpose of this order is to confer upon the European Space Agency, and persons connected with it, the usual privileges and immunities which are required to be conferred in accordance with Annex I to the Convention for the Establishment of a European Space Agency, which was presented to Parliament in October 1975. Before it can enter into force, the Convention requires to be ratified by all the 10 States which signed it in 1975. It is expected that the four signatories which have not so far ratified will have done so within the next 12 months or so. The United Kingdom ratification was deposited on 28th March this year. The new European Space Agency, whose aim is to integrate the Member countries' national space programmes into a European space programme, has been formed by the merger of the European Space Research Organisation—ESRO as we are accustomed to call it—and the European Laboratory for the Development and Construction of Space Vehicle Launchers. Those two organisations together comprise the new European Space Agency.

The Agency now represents the major European collaborative body in a high technology industry which involves, among other things, application (mainly telecommunication) and research satellites. Your Lordships might have noticed recent Press reports on the launching on 14th July of an Agency scientific satellite. This is the first ever research satellite to be placed in and operate from geo-stationary orbit, and is a notable success for the European Space Agency a success clue in considerable part to the work of the prime contractor, the former British Aircraft Corporation. The United Kingdom is now concentrating most of the expenditure which it devotes to space applications and research in the activities of the Agency; that is, about £37 million a year.

The Agency has its headquarters in Paris and it has no plans at present to have any premises or permanent employees in the United Kingdom. There is no increase in the privileges and immunities which we are already required to confer under the two orders which are being revoked. The net result of the new arrangement is in terms of immunities and privileges practically, if not in fact, nil. These privileges and immunities arc on a scale broadly similar to that accorded to other international organisations of a comparable nature to which we arc a party. Immunity from suit and legal process in the case of traffic offences and damage caused by motor-cars is specifically excluded. The Article is quite specific on that point. Your Lordships will appreciate that, in view of its location outside the United Kingdom, the Agency is most unlikely to require the immunities conferred by the draft order. Nevertheless they need to be put forward in the appropriate form through both Houses. Similarly, the effect on the Exchequer of the privileges it accords is likely to he very limited indeed. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will approve this order and thereby demonstrate the support of this House for the valuable work of the Agency. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft European Space Agency (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1978, laid before the House on 13th June, be approved,—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)

3.19 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends, I should like to thank the Minister for explaining the purpose of this order. May I reassure him that we on this side of the House also approve the order that he had laid before the House. I should like to pay tribute to the very valuable work of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for their vigilance over the drafting of this particular order. We all know the many hundreds of orders that come before this Committee during the course of a year, and I should imagine it would be quite easy for matters to slip past them without being analysed carefully. We have an example before us of the very careful way in which they examine all these orders, and I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, in paying tribute to the work of the Committee.

I should like also to thank the Government for the way in which they have handled this, in that when they were notified that there was a possible slight irregularity in the drafting of the order, in another place it was announced that the Government would be looking at the drafting of the order. I see from my own copy of the order that there has been a slight amendment in the wording with regard to the petrol allowance. This relates to the question of whether it as the diplomat himself and members of his household, as opposed to the diplomat himself and any other person who got it on his account. That may be a small matter, but it shows that the Government have taken care over the drafting and have recognised the correct approach to this matter taken by the Joint Committee.

With regard to the European Space Agency itself, we on this side welcome and support its work. We think it will do valuable work. It is certainly a sensible reorganisation of ESRO and ELDO into one organisation, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for having told us a little about the work of the Agency. I shall not, therefore, take up the time of the House any longer on that. I should like only to ask the noble Lord one question; with regard to the signatories of this Convention, could he tell us whether any other European countries will he eligible to join the Space Agency? There are at least three European countries, admittedly small ones—Portugal, Greece and Turkey—who are members of the Council of Europe but who are not signatories, who might be able to contribute, though not perhaps financially, to the work of the Space Agency.

I would particularly draw attention to Article 2 of the Convention, which refers to the purpose as being "co-operation among European States". That does not define which European States would be involved or state whether it is only a Council of Europe Convention. I believe it is not a Council of Europe Convention and could be open to States who are not even members of the Council of Europe. However, I should be grateful for a reply from the noble Lord the Minister in due course. Apart from that, we support the purpose of the order which has been laid before the House.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would forgive me for raising what may seem to be a most trivial point in regard to the draft order. I appreciate what he says when he mentions that it is scarcely likely to involve us practically; but I observe that in paragraph 6(b) there is immunity for the Agency, except in regard to matters mentioned in paragraph 6. In paragraph 6(b) immunity is excepted in regard to a claim by a third party for damage arising from an accident caused by a motor vehicle. If an unfortunate passenger, who is not normally regarded as a third party (there is no definition of 44 "a third party" in the interpretation clause), were in the vehicle concerned, would it mean that the Agency had immunity, and is that intended?


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for expressing, on behalf of the Opposition, appreciation of the vigilance of the Joint Statutory Instruments Committee and also for acclaiming the very valuable work already being done by the constituent elements of this new Agency: what we have been accustomed to call ESRO and ELDO—the literally heavenly twins, one might say, since they deal with matters of space.

The third point she raised I shall have to consider: that is, whether there are others, apart from the 10 signatory members who came together to decide in 1972 and who agreed on the details in 1975. I shall have to deal with that separately. My impression is that the phrase "European States" would cover other States outside the 10, four of whom have not ratified but all of whom have agreed. Certainly I take the political point—"political" with a small "p"—she made relative to the expansion of the Community itself. I am inclined to regard it with very warm favour. So, if the noble Baroness will allow me to look into this, I will give her an answer, possibly by way of a Written Answer, or in some other way. The noble Baroness indicated the importance of this question and I agree with her. The answer should be put with the utmost precision and clarity. I know that Ireland will become a member when the Convention enters into force: I do not think that Ireland was one of the original 10. I have the list here.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, if the noble Lord would allow me to intervene, on page 45 of the Convention, in Cmnd. 6272, Ireland is mentioned as one of the 12 signatory countries at that time.


My Lords, yes indeed; it has signed. The original group, as it were, were the 10, and certainly Ireland has since signed and will become a member of the Convention when it enters into force. I think I could say now, and confirm in the form that I suggested a little later, that any European country is in theory eligible to become a member of the ESA; but I should like to confirm that formally for the record.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to say that this is a very important point. It might allow these countries, under the terms of the Convention, to join, and I think we should like to be assured of who will be allowed to do so and under what terms.


Yes, my Lords, the exact position with regard to those last two points will also be confirmed in the Answer that I send to the noble Baroness. At the moment, her concern and my own that there should be a European open-ended basis for this, can be taken for granted; but the details are very important. My noble friend Lord Mishcon raised a point on paragraph 6(b) of the order. A passenger is regarded as a third party for the purposes of this Article. Once more, in thanking both sides of the House for the welcome they have given to this important and valuable order, I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.