HL Deb 16 July 1979 vol 401 cc1232-41

7.46 p.m.

Lord TREFGARNE rose to move, That the draft order, laid before the House on 12th June, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, with permission I will speak at the same time to the Oslo and Paris Commissions (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1979 and the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1979. These orders, which will be made under the International Organisations Act 1968, were laid before the House on 24th May and 9th July.

The first of these orders relates to the International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation and will revoke the order made in 1972 in respect of this organisation. It is required to give effect to the Protocol on INTELSAT Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities which was signed by the United Kingdom on 23rd August 1978 and laid before the House on 2nd November 1978.

The United Kingdom has been associated with the development of satellite communications since the first experimental launchings of such a satellite in 1962. We were one of the founder members of the consortium which was set up in 1964 as an interim measure pending the conclusion in 1971 of an agreement establishing the International Telecommunication Satellite Organisation "Intelsat". One hundred and two States have now signed this agreement, which the United Kingdom ratified on 16th February 1972.

The purpose of INTELSAT is to continue the design, development, operation and maintenance of the satellites and associated systems which provide, on a commercial basis, a reliable, high quality international public telecommunications service to all areas of the world. The two essential elements in this service are, first, the space segment, which at the moment comprises 13 satellites in geostationary orbit at various locations over the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans at a height of some 22,240 miles; and, secondly, the ground segment, consisting of 160 earth stations located in 100 countries. The combined system of satellites and earth stations provides approximately 685 earth station-to-earth station communication channels.

Your Lordships may be interested to know that the Protocol on INTELSAT Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities is the first multilateral non-regional agreement on privileges and immunities to be concluded for some time. It was agreed upon at a conference held in May 1978 in Washington, where the organisation has its headquarters. The general trend of the conference was towards a limitation of the privileges and immunities to be accorded to INTELSAT, and persons connected with it, because of the semi-commercial nature of the organisation.

Accordingly, the order provides a more limited range of privileges and immunities than is customary for most international organisations of which the United Kingdom is a Member State. Thus, INTELSAT is to be exempted from taxation and from Customs duties, not on all of the items it imports or purchases for its official use, but only in respect of "the exempted items"; that is, communications satellites, and components and parts for them, which are to be put into orbit or carry out the organisation's main function. This means that, in respect of Customs and taxation exemptions, the draft order now before your Lordships is giving no more, and I would like to stress this, than is already being given to the organisation by the existing order which is now being revoked.

As regards the staff members of the organisation, the Protocol requires that they shall enjoy immunity from jurisdiction in respect of their official acts and, in member countries of which they are not nationals or permanent residents, exemption from income tax on their salaries and emoluments from INTELSAT. When taking up an appointment in another member country they are also to be granted exemption from Customs duties and taxes on the importation of their personal effects. These are the basic privileges and immunities which the United Kingdom has recognised as necessary and appropriate for the staff members of international organisations. The order accordingly gives effect to those provisions, but your Lordships will appreciate that we are unlikely to have to implement them in this country, since there is no proposal that INTELSAT should set up an office here.

The Protocol also requires that representatives of the contracting parties shall be granted immunity from suit only in respect of their official functions. A similar provision extends to the members of an arbitration tribunal which may be established under the provisions of the INTELSAT agreement or operating agreement to settle disputes arising between the organisation and contracting parties or between parties of signatories themselves. Thus, if such a tribunal were to be set up in this country, the arbitrators and witnesses participating in the arbitration proceedings would be accorded immunity, but again only in respect of their official functions. I should like to emphasise however, that for these persons, as also for the officials of the organisation, immunity does not extend to motor traffic offences or accidents. From what I have said, your Lordships will realise that the making of this order will not result in any significant extension of immunity from the jurisdiction of our courts; nor will its effect on the Exchequer be more than minimal.

May I now turn to the draft Oslo and Paris Commissions (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1979, which I shall move separately. This is required to give effect to the agreement relating to the commissions established by the Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft 1972, and the Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources 1974.

The Agreement was laid before the House on 10th May 1979. Happily, rather than use the full and very lengthy title of the agreement, the order refers to the shorter titles by which these two separate, but related, commissions are generally known.

The Oslo Convention has as its object the protection of the marine environment from dumping by ships and aircraft. The convention which now has 12 parties, resulted from a meeting of some North Sea States, convened in 1971 on the initiative of the United Kingdom. The convention came into force on 7th April 1974. It requires all dumping in the North Sea and North-East Atlantic (but excluding the Baltic and the Mediterranean) by ships and aircraft to be authorised by national authorities. It prohibits the dumping of certain substances such as compounds of heavy metals, organo-chlorines, and carcinogenic substances, and others which might find their way into the food chain. Specific permits are required for the dumping of other, less harmful, substances, and the convention has provisions regarding the characteristics of the waste, packing methods, and the location of the dumping site.

The Paris Convention, which concerns the prevention of marine pollution from land-based sources including rivers and estuaries, arose from a French initiative in 1973. It was welcomed as a much needed supplement to the Oslo Convention, covering, as it did, the same geographical area, and was closely modelled on that earlier convention. It came into force on 6th May 1978, and eight of the 14 signatories have so far ratified it. Parties to the Paris Convention undertake as a matter of urgency to eliminate pollution of the sea, from land-based sources by certain defined substances, to limit strictly pollution by other substances, to monitor marine pollution, and to co-operate in research.

Each of the conventions established a commission, composed of representatives from each contracting party, to oversee its operations. The Oslo Commission based its secretariat in London where it could maintain close liaison with the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, which is the secretariat body for the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. With the entry into force of the Paris Convention it was agreed between the two commissions that their affairs could be most economically handled by a single secretariat. Thus the joint secretariat came into being in London to act on behalf of both the Oslo and Paris Commissions.

The draft order confers legal personality on the commissions and exempts them from the payment of direct taxes. Unlike most orders of this kind, it does not confer any privileges or immunities upon representatives of Member States, since none were requested. The five staff members are to receive only such privileges and immunities as are necessary for this small joint secretariat to function effectively here. I hope that your Lordships will approve the draft order, thus confirming your support for the valuable work which is being carried out by the Oslo and Paris Commissions.

The last draft order before your Lordships is also connected with marine pollution, but in a rather different way. This order relates to the international fund set up to deal with the payment of compensation as a result of pollution damage caused by the escape or discharge of oil from ships.

The "Torrey Canyon" incident in 1967 demonstrated that there did not exist in international law adequate provision to enable those affected by marine oil pollution damage to recover the considerable cost of carrying out preventative measures, and in effecting cleaning-up operations. The United Kingdom Government therefore took the initiative in measures which led to an inter-govern- mental conference negotiating in 1969 the International Convention on Civil Liabilities for Oil Pollution Damage. This convention, which entered in to force in 1975, has now been accepted by 39 countries, including almost every significant maritime power. The major exception is the United States. While being a great step forward in making shipowners strictly liable for oil pollution damage caused by laden tankers, the limit of their liability at £9.5 million was still inadequate to cover a major disaster.

Accordingly, a further inter-governmental conference adopted in December 1971 the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage. This fund is financed by levies on imported oil which are paid by the oil companies of contracting States. The oil companies have no control over the disposal of monies from the fund. It makes compensation available to victims of oil pollution, when adequate compensation could not be obtained under the earlier convention from the shipowners concerned. Your Lordships will recognise that these provisions follow the "polluter pays" principle. The owner of a laden tanker that spills oil is liable to meet a first tranche of compensation under the Civil Liability Convention, with a second tranche being financed by the oil industry. The United Kingdom ratified the fund convention in 1976 and made an order to give effect to its provisions on privileges and immunities. The convention entered into force on 16th October 1978, and compensation from it is now obtainable up to a maximum of £29.3 million sterling per incident. The original maximum was £19.5 million sterling, but this amount was increased in April this year.

The presence in London of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, with which the fund requires to work in close collaboration, was one of the incentives which led the fund's members to accept Her Majesty's Government's invitation to establish its headquarters in London. When IMCO move in two or three years' time into the new building which is being constructed for them on the Albert Embankment, the fund will have its own offices in that building. At present it is housed in separate premises which IMCO have leased close to their existing headquarters. We have negotiated an agreement with the fund setting out the conditions under which its small staff will operate here. This agreement was laid before the House on 21st June. A new order is required to give effect to that agreement. It incorporates the fiscal reliefs provided by the earlier order, which it revokes, and accords the additional privileges and immunities which are specified in the agreement.

The scale of these privileges and immunities is comparable with that accorded to most of the other international organisations having their headquarters in London. However, a significant difference is that the fund's immunity from suit is more limited in certain respects. For example, action may be taken against the fund in the courts of this country in relation to the compensation provisions of the convention. I am sure that your Lordships will also recognise the additional benefits which will accrue to this country from the receipt of the levies paid to the fund by the oil companies. For these reasons, therefore, I ask your Lordships to endorse the important and useful work of this organisation by approving the draft order. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order, laid before the House on 12th June, be approved.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

8 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for only a very few minutes because the Minister has most carefully and precisely defined the purport of these three orders, two of which are, of course, quite closely related. As to the first, dealing with Intelsat, this is an order conferring privileges and immunities on this organisation and certain of its representatives, and, as the Minister explained, it is in accordance with the agreement and protocol signed by the United Kingdom in, I think, August 1978. As such, the order flows from that agreement and that protocol, and it is therefore common form in that sense and, indeed, in content and purport. It does not, at least significantly, derogate from similar orders related to similar requirements. We note with satisfaction that the Joint Committee of both Houses on Delegated Legislation have reported that they see nothing in this order that they should specially bring to the attention of both Houses, and we are very glad to support the motion for the approval of this order.

As to the twins, the Oslo and Paris Commissions Order, they are of course closely related and they deal with an extremely important, and perhaps increasingly important, fact of modern international industrial life. I am sure that the Minister and the whole House (such as it is) would agree with me that we have not by any means solved this problem. In recent weeks we have had to consider new developments in this field, which has caused us great concern; but for the moment we are concerned with the order, and here again the Joint Committee which scrutinises these instruments has returned a clean bill of health in both cases. I would merely add here that the Oslo order, as I shall call it, certainly flows from an agreement which orginally was the subject of a British initiative. I think that to some extent that is true of the Paris order, which deals with land-based problems arising in this field. These two orders are in fact relatively common form, and we are glad to support the motion.

As to the third, relating to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, this, too, is acceptable to us; and here again the Joint Committee on Delegated Legislation see no need to draw our attention to any particular feature of the order. I turn to my noble friend for adventitious technology. This, of course, limits immunity from suit, does it not? I think I heard the Minister make this point, and I was very glad to hear him make it because any limitation on immunities, so long as it does not impair the efficiency of the organisation concerned, is always most welcome to either or both Houses. I have my own views on this, as noble Lords know, but I am sure the House has heard with gratification that this is the case with this particular order. This flows from an agreement between this country and the fund, and I think it is very important to underline what the Minister has said about the fund as a separate entity. I was glad that he described how the fund was assembled, how the fund is funded, and the system of levies—the dual system of levies, in fact—which seems to be a fundamentally sound way of doing it.

Quite apart from the order, however, I am sure the House will feel that we shall have to look at the whole question of compensation again; but that does not concern this country only, and I shall not go down that path because it does not really relate to the requirements of the order which the House is asked to approve. The Minister reminded us that 39 States, I understand, have adhered to this, and I take it that they comprise most, if not all, of the major maritime States—with, however, a notable exception; that of the United States of America. This is not the time or place to go into the reasons why certain adherencies have not been forthcoming, even when it involves a country of the importance of the United States in this as in other matters; but it is encouraging to find that in both the East and the West, if I may put it like that, in both political areas of the world, there has been agreement about this fund. It is not confined to the Western democracies, if I may put it in that way, for I understand that there has been support and agreement for it from beyond the Curtain; and I also understand that countries to which we in the Community look with favour and anticipation as future members of the Community, such as Greece, have adhered to it. I think I am right on that, and perhaps the Minister will tell us. Greece has an extremely important role to play, as she always has had, in these matters.

So, my Lords, as the Minister, as he must, moves each order in turn we shall join with him in expressing, in response to each of the three motions when we come to it, our contentment with the purpose and content of these orders. Having taken a little time over the last two sentences so that the Greeks may arrive, I now invite the Minister to respond to the one or two small points that I have made.


My Lords, the Greeks may not arrive during the course of our deliberations, I am sorry to say. I am very much obliged to the noble Lord, though, for his helpful and constructive approach to these orders. I do not think I really need to detain your Lordships for much longer, hut the interesting points which the noble Lord has raised I will deal with more effectively, perhaps, in correspondence. That being so, I hope your Lordships will agree to the first order standing in my name on the Order Paper.


My Lords, before the Question is put, perhaps I should have said, not that the Greeks should arrive but that the marines should arrive.

On Question, Motion agreed to.