HL Deb 20 July 1982 vol 433 cc810-5

6.43 p.m.

Lord Belstead rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th June be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux (Immunites and Privileges) Order 1982 be approved. With your Lordships' permission, I will speak at the same time to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1982. These draft orders, which are to be made under the International Organisations Acts 1968 and 1981, were laid before Parliament on 25th June.

One of the purposes of the International Organisations Act 1981 was to remedy the omissions of the 1968 Act so that we could accord appropriate immunities and privileges to those international organisations whose memberships were composed solely of Commonwealth Governments. The Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux is one such organisation.

The body as a whole is composed of the headquarters at Farnham Royal and the 13 institutions and bureaux located at research institutes or university departments in the United Kingdom, as well as the biological control institute in Trinidad. They provide a pest and disease indentification service and publish 45 abstract journals as well as making their information available through a computer service. They are recognised as a leading world information service in agriculture. The United Kingdom benefits considerably from the presence of the bureaux and we were anxious to ensure that this and other wholly Commonwealth organisations were not disadvantaged in comparison with the other international organisations which are located in this country. Accordingly, we negotiated a Headquarters Agreement with the bureaux to provide for such immunities and privileges to be received as would enable the organisation to function effectively. That agreement was laid before the House on 25th March.

The draft order is to give effect to the agreement. It contains no provisions to accord immunities from jurisdiction to the organisation or its staff members, although the representatives of Commonwealth member countries will enjoy such immunity in respect of their official acts only, when they are here to deal with the bureaux's affairs. Secondly, in accordance with internationally accepted principles, we have exempted the bureaux's income from taxation and, thirdly, when the organisation has established its own internal system, the salaries of its staff will be exempted from liability to pay income tax to the Inland Revenue. We will also accord staff members coming from the Commonwealth the usual first-arrival customs privileges on their personal and household effects. That is the effect of the first order.

I now turn to the second order before your Lordships, which concerns the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, or UNIDO, as it is generally known. UNIDO, as a body within the United Nations, at present enjoys immunities and privileges under the provisions of the United Nations and International Court of Justice (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974. However, UNIDO is taking steps to become one of the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations and, when that happens, the 1974 Order in Council will cease to be applicable to it.

The purpose of this draft order is merely to ensure that we can meet our obligations under the new UNIDO constitution by continuing to accord to the organisation such treatment as it already enjoys. The order does no more than that. It does not provide for any new or additional immunities or privileges to be accorded to the organisation.

As many of your Lordships will know, UNIDO was established in 1967 as the result of a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly passed the year before. The purpose of the organisation, which has its headquarters in Vienna, is the promotion of industrial development in developing countries, with particular emphasis on the manufacturing sector. It is also responsible for reviewing and co-ordinating all the activities of the United Nations system in the field of industrial development.

It will thus be seen that the first of these two draft orders provides a very limited range of privileges to an important all-Commonwealth organisation, while the second does no more than continue the status quo for a very useful United Nations organisation. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will approve both the orders and I beg to move, first of all, the first order on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1982 laid before the House on 28th June be approved.—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for explaining those orders, and on this side of the House we support them. I have only one or two short general questions to put to the Minister. As regards the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, I endorse everything he said about its importance and the service it renders to agriculture. In the Commonwealth we are particularly conscious these days of the importance of encouraging Commonwealth countries to develop their agriculture in a productive manner. No contribution would be greater in certain Commonwealth countries, particularly in Africa, than a well-organised agriculture; and if this body can make its contribution in that direction then it will have done a good job of work.

For the record, can the Minister say a further word about the bureaux? Is every Commonwealth country represented on it? Were they all parties to the agreement? This is something which we require to know. The exemptions granted to the new organisation are very substantial, as we see from Part If of the order, but I think that these are comparable to those afforded to similar bodies which are established in this country. Can the Minister also say how many individuals will benefit from the immunities? A very large number of people—not only embassies but other international bodies in London—benefit from these immunities. Can the Minister say how many more will be added to the list as a result of these two orders? This is something in which the general public is always interested.

May I also ask the same question about UNIDO? How many people will be involved here and be granted immunity as a result of the order? There is no clear indication when the order will come into operation. It seems from the second paragraph on page 2 that UNIDO has not complied with Section 37 of the Convention. Can the Minister say how significant this is, and is there a prospect that it will comply fairly soon? As UNIDO is to become one of the specified agencies of the United Nations, it seems that the 1974 order will not be applicable to it and thus the facilities of this order are not new, but need to be continued. Again, UNIDO is involved with industrial development promotion and with co-ordinating such activities. These are very important and desirable, having regard to the needs of developing countries. The Brandt Report, which we have debated in this House so many times, reminds us of that. Can the Minister say what number of countries have ratified the Convention and how many more are required to bring it into effect?

Finally, as I understand it—and perhaps the Minister can confirm this—the Government's present contribution is mandatory, but will be voluntary in future. What precisely does this mean? Will it ensure that there will be no reduction in their contribution due to the needs of UNIDO? I should be most grateful if the noble Lord could assist us on that, because it is a point of sonic significance. Those are, briefly, the questions that I wish to put to the noble Lord, and if he can give a reply I am sure that the House would be grateful.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord also to confirm on the first draft order that, under paragraph 10(1)(a) on page 2, a motor traffic offence committed by a representative or in the case of damage caused by a vehicle belonging to or driven by him is excluded from the immunity? Is this a standard form for this category of immunity? I believe that there are several categories of immunity—the full immunity attaching to diplomatic and similar staffs, and something of a lower category attaching to other organisations, of which, presumably, this is one.

There is no doubt that, in general, the number of people covered by immunities is growing. The amount of liquor being consumed tax-free in various institutions in this country is also growing. Some people with immunities disregard all traffic laws and cannot be proceeded against for breaking them. They do almost anything they like and nobody can touch them. The amount of consumable goods going into the institutions concerned seems to be out of all proportion to the quantity that people could consume for their own purposes. One wonders what happens to the rest. Altogether, there is a bit of a squalid side to all these immunities and we ought to look with some care at extending them.

I know that this is the courtesy that we extend to representatives of other countries coming to do their work here. But I am sure the noble Lord will agree that things happen among those who enjoy these immunities, which can be deeply resented by members of the community. What with diplomatic and other immunities and duty-free shops, it is a very unlucky person who has to pay the full price for his drink. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure us that this is a very modest extension of immunities, that it is in a category which restricts the possibility of abuse, and that we can welcome this as an addition to the courtesy that we extend to other organisations coming to reside and do their work among us.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, and to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for their reaction to the two orders. If I may first answer the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who asked me for a little more detail about the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, particularly how many Commonwealth countries are members, I can tell him that 28 countries are members of the bureaux. Apart from the headquarters at Farnham Royal, there are 10 bureaux concerned with documentary services located at research institutes or university departments in the United Kingdom. Three institutes concerned with identification services and taxonomic research are also located in the United Kingdom, and there is the Commonwealth Institute of Biological Control, with its headquarters in Trinidad and outstations in various parts of the world.

The Ministry of Agriculture provides 30 per cent. of the contribution income to the bureaux, with a supplementary contribution of 6 per cent. being made by the Agricultural Research Council, in recognition of the special value of the bureaux' services to them. We believe—and the noble Lord made it quite clear that he believes, too—that the United Kingdom benefits considerably from the presence of these bureaux here in the United Kingdom. The noble Lord asked me how the staff of the bureaux would benefit from this order and how many there are. The bureaux employ a total of approximately 400 staff in this country. Almost all are United Kingdom citizens or permanent residents. Although they will cease to pay tax on their salaries to the Inland Revenue, they will pay a similar amount of tax direct to the bureaux.

The noble Lord asked me the same question about UNIDO. The fact of the matter is that UNIDO has no office at all in this country. The immunities and privileges which we are talking about in this order are granted, first, to cover any conferences or seminar which UNIDO might wish to hold in the United Kingdom; and, secondly, to allow for the possible opening of a branch office here. The noble Lord also asked me when the UNIDO order would, in fact, come into effect. I am advised that it comes into effect when ratification of the new constitution occurs. The states which we hope are going to ratify—and 80 are needed—will then, of course, agree on a new constitution, and I believe it is at that moment that the new order will come into effect. The fact of the matter is that so far only 75 states have ratified.

I must be perfectly open with the noble Lord and say that it does not yet include the United Kingdom. The fact of the matter is that we are waiting for the United States to ratify. The United States is due to bear something like one-quarter of the contributions towards UNIDO, and it is most important to be assured that the United States is going to ratify before we do so. But I can assure the noble Lord that we intend to ratify the new constitution. The exact timing of our ratification is, as I say, not finally decided, but I am advised that it is likely to be effected by the beginning of next year.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for that helpful reply. May I ask him whether it is the case, then, that our ratification is dependent upon the United States ratification, the reason being that Her Majesty's Government do not think that the organisation would be viable unless the United States ratified it because of the size of the United States' international contribution?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is almost the position, but may I put it like this. I have not said that our ratification is absolutely dependent on the United States. What I am saying is that we have been in close touch to see what the Uhited States intends to do. The reason is that because of the very large percentage of the budget of UNIDO which falls to the United States, it is important to be assured of the intentions of the United States. Again, I am not saying that UNIDO would not be viable without that contribution, but if the United States did not make that 25 per cent. contribution, somebody else would have to. This is an added reason as to why we are so anxious to be assured of the intentions of the United States. In case, however, I have given a wrong impression, I should like to repeat that I am advised that it is likely that our ratification will be able to be affected by the beginning of next year.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is that because we think that the United States will have ratified by then?

Lord Belstead

That is so. May I finally turn to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. Immunity of representatives from legal process is restricted to acts done in their official capacity and does not extend to private acts. In addition, there is no immunity in respect of motor traffic accidents or offences, even where it could be argued that the driving was in the exercise of functions as a representative. The immunity in regard to official acts, unlike the other privileges accorded to representatives, persists even after the representative has ceased to be a representative. This is necessary in order to enable him to carry out his duties as the representative of a foreign state without fear of harassment.

I hope that I have answered sufficiently the questions which were put to me on these two orders, and again I beg to move that the first of the two orders be agreed to.

On Question, Motion agreed to.