HL Deb 06 April 2000 vol 611 cc1490-3

8.2 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th March be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the draft order will enable the Government to ratify the Convention on the Establishment of the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation, which the Government provisionally accepted on 9th September 1998. The draft order is made under the International Organisations Act 1968 and will give effect in United Kingdom law to the privileges and immunities granted by the convention. The privileges and immunities granted are necessary for the organisation, its staff and experts, as well as the representatives of member states, to carry out their functions. In accordance with Section 1(6)(a) of the International Organisations Act 1968, the privileges and immunities conferred by the draft order are no greater in extent than those required by the convention or those authorised by the Act. The headquarters of the organisation are in Bonn, Germany. The organisation currently employs around 30 staff, including five British nationals.

The Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation is known by its French acronym, OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Cooperation en Matière d'Armement). It was launched in November 1996 as a defence procurement collaboration between the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy. In joining this work, the United Kingdom aimed to participate in setting up a body which, in the words of one of my illustrious predecessor as Minister responsible for defence procurement, added value not bureaucracy; one which will lead to more efficient and effective collaborative ventures than those seen to date, producing equipment which can compete with the best in the world". In 1998, the Strategic Defence Review confirmed the potential benefits of improved collaboration and that OCCAR had a part to play in achieving this.

Formal status for OCCAR will allow the organisation to place and manage contracts in its own name and to employ its own staff. This should lead to the development of a range of skills and techniques based on international best practice, thereby eliminating the need to "reinvent the wheel" each time nations embark on new collaborative ventures.

All four member states signed the OCCAR convention at the Farnborough Air Show on 9th September 1998. The text was published and presented to Parliament as Command Paper 4367 in June 1999. The House of Commons Select Committee on Defence has examined the development of OCCAR and the implications of the convention. The committee's report was published on 6th December 1999 and recommended that, subject to certain provisos which will be met, the convention should be ratified. The report concluded that the House should give its approval to the present order to allow for United Kingdom ratification.

The convention is open to other European states; and the Netherlands and Belgium have already indicated their interest in becoming partners in due course. It sets out, among other things, the founding principles, general organisation and the objectives of OCCAR. Two key aims (in Article 5) are a strengthening of the competitiveness of European defence technology and its industrial base, together with a renunciation of traditional trade-balancing policies allowing increased competition in collaborative procurement. An important commitment (in Article 6) is that each member state is obliged to give preference to equipment in the development of which it has participated within OCCAR when meeting the requirements of its armed forces. But improving the effectiveness of project management in collaborative projects is the prime objective, as Article 7 makes clear. OCCAR's principal tasks in the management and co-ordination of such projects are set out in more detail in Article 8 of the convention.

All four member states have agreed that OCCAR shall have a legal personality and that OCCAR, its staff and experts, as well as the representatives of its member states, shall enjoy the privileges and immunities set out in Annexe Ito the convention. The privileges and immunities to be accorded are similar to those accorded to other international organisations—there are 33 international organisations based in the United Kingdoin—and are necessary for us to conform with our international obligations. Reciprocal privileges and immunities orders have been passed, or are being passed, in France, Germany and Italy.

I very much hope that your Lordships will approve this modest and non-controversial order. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th March be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing what we, too, see as a non-controversial order.

I agree with the noble Baroness that we are discussing not how the Organisation Conjointe de Cooperation en Matière d'Armement—or, as it is known, by yet another acronym for our vocabularies, OCCAR—will operate, but rather the immunities and privileges that are granted to international organisations on a purely practical basis to allow them effectively to fulfil their functions. This includes the preservation of their independence of action. An international organisation should not be subject to any form of leverage by the host nation. The key aims seem eminently sensible.

Can the Minister tell us if the reciprocal orders have already been passed by the parliaments in the other countries concerned? Does the order differ substantially from those passed to cover other diplomatic organisations? How soon after today does the Minister expect the order to come into force?

I know that this is not a privileges and immunities parking Bill, as the Minister said in the other place. But can the Minister tell the House whether the order covers any other accidents? It does seem to refer, in Part II, Article 6(1)(b), solely to accidents caused by a motor vehicle.

It is a shame that OCCAR is based in Bonn in Germany rather than in London. As with the siting of the United Nations, it was said that it would have been sited in the United Kingdom had we been more generous in providing free Scotch whisky to its members. Sadly, we lost the UN to another country. Since we see how Brussels and indeed Belgium have benefited from the presence of both NATO and the European Union, can the Minister comment on whether there are any other areas where we might encourage and attract more international organisations to locate their operations in this country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, in answer to the noble Baroness's final point, I am delighted that she, speaking on behalf of her party, would wish to attract European and other organisations to the United Kingdom. I must tell her very gently that the agreement for the headquarters to be sited in Bonn rather than in London was reached by our predecessors in office. As the noble Baroness will know, this organisation began its life under my predecessor. The words I quoted were those of James Arbuthnot MP. Agreement was reached at that time that the organisation would be sited in Bonn. However, I am delighted to think that on future occasions we shall enjoy the support of the noble Baroness's party in siting European organisations in London or elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

I am happy that the noble Baroness is able to agree that this is a non-controversial order. Reciprocal legislation is being passed in the other three countries concerned. It is probable that Italy will be the last country to go through its necessary legislative procedures. After we have gone through ours, this will become the law of the land once it has gone through the necessary procedures at the Privy Council, which should be at the end of this month. The procedures go from your Lordships' House to the Privy Council. Once they have gone through the Privy Council, they will have completed their legislative round in the United Kingdom. However, we have to have the confirmation of all four countries, including Italy, which still has to go through its legislative procedures.

The noble Baroness asked about the parking provisions. As she will know—

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, not the parking provisions.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I beg the noble Baroness's pardon. She asked about the other immunities. She will know that the privileges and immunities granted are similar to those set out in other orders relating to international organisations. Different immunities are granted for different people within the organisation. For example, the director of OCCAR will enjoy the same kind of privileges and immunities as a diplomat. The noble Baroness asked about other accidents. She might find it helpful if I write to her and give her a full list, including not only the director but the other individuals on the staff of OCCAR and the representatives who might be visiting each other's countries. It is a very long list and one which I am sure the noble Baroness would find interesting. However, I feel that it would probably be trespassing on your Lordships' patience if I were to go through it in detail now. If the noble Baroness is content with those arrangements, I shall of course place a copy of my letter to her in the Library of the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.