HL Deb 13 December 1994 vol 559 cc1269-71

6.57 p.m.

Barones Chalker of Wallasey rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st December be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations which took place within the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade between 1986 and 1993 was formally concluded at Marrakesh on 15th April this year. The GATT provides a framework of agreed multilateral rules for world trade and the Uruguay Round marks an important step forward in the liberalisation of such trade. The legal vehicle for bringing the results of the round into force is the agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation—Cm 2571.

The WTO will provide an institutional structure for the operation of the various trade agreements covered by the agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation. It will provide a framework for the accession of new members, for the settlement of disputes, and for the amendment of various trade agreements and for other decisions and waivers. The secretariat will comprise the director-general and some 400 officials and will be located in Geneva.

Specifically, this debate is about the privileges and immunities accorded under the draft order which need to be conferred in order for Her Majesty's Government to fulfil their obligations under Article VIII of the Agreement Establishing the WTO (Cm 2571). This article provides that the WTO shall be accorded by each of its members such legal capacity and privileges and immunities as are necessary for the exercise of its functions. Privileges and immunities are also to be accorded to officials of the WTO and the representatives of members. In both respects these are to be similar to those provided for in the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations 1947.

However, as the World Trade Organisation will be located in Geneva, many of the privileges and immunities set out in the draft order in council will never need to be relied upon by the WTO, its officials and representatives of members. The World Trade Organisation is in practice likely only to claim refunds of VAT on goods and services purchased in the United Kingdom for the official purposes of the organisation. We will need only to accord the relevant privileges and immunities to its officials and representatives of members if they attend any WTO meetings or conferences which may be held in the United Kingdom. I would like to emphasise to the House that the privileges and immunities provided for in the order are granted in accordance with the limitations imposed by the International Organisations Act 1968, as amended, under whose provisions the order is made.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered this draft instrument and had no comments. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 1st December be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, first, let me say directly to the Minister that my noble friend Lord Richard wishes me to convey his apologies because he intended to be here but has been inadvertently drawn somewhere else. If he had been here I am sure that he would have wanted to say immediately that this side of the House and, I believe the whole House, warmly appreciates the manner in which the Minister has explained to us what I believe will be seen in practice as a very significant step towards helping the nations of the world to trade on a more equal basis.

Substantially this legislation replaces GATT and that which flowed from it. We have listened to the function of this House being carried out in order to endorse the legalities which flow from the legislation. If we replace the GATT arrangements which came into operation in 1948 and which lasted a substantial number of years—that is to say, 47 years—it may be that we are looking here at a provision which will be in existence in the year 2040. That is not something that is easy to contemplate. We know that GATT has been enlarged and changed enormously in the countries which it now covers, including China and Russia and 123 other nations.

We are giving approval tonight to something which is vital to ensure that the world is a better place with all that can flow from trade. I particularly like the desire to ensure greater transparency and consultation in trade policy matters at national, regional and international levels. Surely this country must be a beneficiary in such matters. I especially like the proposals for information sharing under the World Trade Organisation.

I am delighted that the Minister made some reference to the importance of the consumer organisations who have a role to play. I believe that they have assisted in the policy formulation in these matters.

As far as we are concerned, the Government's intention is real as regards the specific arrangements for increasing public awareness and involvement in trade matters. I can well imagine that before the hiatus which occurred between the European Community and particularly America in the past two years, not many people would have understood what GATT was about. The Minister has tonight made it abundantly clear that the international immunities and privileges which will flow from the World Trade Organisation are certainly well understood. We on these Benches give this order a very warm welcome.

Barones Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for that welcome.

On Question, Motion agreed to.