HL Deb 22 March 1999 vol 598 cc1092-4

11.59 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th February be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the order is required to give effect in UK law to the new headquarters agreement which has been negotiated as the result of the organisation's restructuring. An affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament is necessary before the order can be referred to the Privy Council. The order revokes and replaces a previous order made in 1980 to confer privileges and immunities on the organisation's predecessor.

The decision to restructure, which is basically privatisation, was taken to ensure the organisation's survival in a rapidly changing and commercially competitive environment. This is due to take place on 15th April 1999 when most of the organisation's staff, assets and liabilities will be transferred to a limited liability company to be known as Inmarsat. A small secretariat, which will retain its intergovernmental character and will continue as a treaty-based entity, will remain. This will be known as the International Mobile Satellite Organisation. Its sole purpose will be the oversight of the new company's public service obligations, that is, the operation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety Service (GMDSS)—in other words, the "999" for ships.

The organisation was previously known as the International Maritime Satellite Organisation. This was established in 1979 and located in the UK under the aegis of a headquarters agreement signed on 25th February 1980. It was given effect in UK law by the INMARSAT (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1980. The organisation subsequently changed its name to the International Mobile Satellite Organisation.

The original purpose of the organisation was to improve maritime communications, as well as aeronautical communications, as practicable. These activities were designed to assist in improving communications for distress and safety of life and for communications for air traffic services. They were also designed to improve the efficiency and management of transportation by sea, by air and on land, as well as maritime, aeronautical and other public correspondence services, plus radio-determination capabilities.

The Government strongly support the restructuring, which is designed to ensure the new private sector company's attractiveness to investors and its ability to take advantage of rapidly advancing technology. The incorporation of new developments quickly, the reduction of operational costs and improvements in the speed of decision-making are also key objectives. An important point to note is that the residual intergovernmental organisation will be entirely funded by the new Inmarsat company, with no cost burden falling to member countries. The net result is private sector funding of an international public service and the more efficient and competitive use of a public sector organisation's staff and assets.

The number of staff accorded privileges and immunities will be much reduced from 472 at present to about six when the restructuring becomes effective in April. The Order in Council will give the residual intergovernmental organisation, which will be based in London, the same kind of privileges and immunities as its predecessor. The new headquarters agreement, necessary on account of the restructuring, is modelled on and closely follows the wording of the 1980 agreement with the organisation's forerunner, which it terminates.

It is essential and important to the 86 member states of the International Mobile Satellite Organisation for the order to be made by the Privy Council at its next monthly meeting on 13th April. This is so that the necessary implementing legislation is in place in order to enable the headquarters agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the organisation to be signed on 15th April which is the effective date for IMSO's restructuring. In the circumstances, I very much hope that your Lordships will approve the draft order.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th February be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.