HL Deb 30 June 2000 vol 614 cc1270-4

5.56 p.m.

Lord Bach rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th June be approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, I beg to move that the draft order be approved. At the same time, with the leave of the House, I shall speak to the International Seabed Authority (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2000.

The first draft order is required to enable the Government to ratify two Council of Europe international agreements relating to the practical functioning of the new permanent European Court of Human Rights which came into being in Strasbourg on 1st November 1999. The draft order is made under the international Organisations Act 1968 and will give effect in UK law to the privileges and immunities granted by the agreements. The privileges and immunities granted are necessary for the efficient functioning of the court. The draft order will confer only those privileges and immunities which we are internationally obliged to confer under the two agreements. The United Kingdom signed the agreements on 27th October 1999.

The two agreements concerned are: first, the European agreement relating to persons participating in proceedings of the European Court of Human Rights; and, secondly, the sixth protocol to the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe. The text of each agreement was published and presented to Parliament in June under cover of explanatory memoranda.

Each agreement replaces a previous agreement to similar effect, which relates to the previous part-time commission and court. The changes made are designed simply to reflect the new situation where there is one single judicial body whose members are permanently resident in Strasbourg. The United Kingdom was party to the predecessor agreements and participated in the negotiations and voted for the adoption of the texts with a view to becoming party to the new agreements.

The European Agreement 1996, like its predecessor, is designed to give persons taking part in proceedings before the court—whether as parties, their lawyers or advisers, or as witnesses, experts or interveners—immunities and facilities to enable them fully to participate in the proceedings. The main immunities and facilities are: first, immunity from legal process in respect of statements made and documents submitted to the court; secondly, a right to correspond freely with the court, including for persons in detention; and, thirdly, free and unimpeded movement and travel for the purpose of attending and returning from proceedings before the court.

Previously the second, fourth and fifth protocols to the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities guaranteed the necessary privileges and immunities to the members of the commission and the old court. The purpose of the sixth protocol is to do the same for the members of the new court. Because, however, they are permanent appointees and reside permanently in Strasbourg, it was considered appropriate to increase their privileges and immunities, to bring them in line, essentially, with those enjoyed by diplomatic envoys. In addition, under the protocol, documents and papers of the court, judges and registry that relate to the business of the court are inviolable.

The second draft order, the International Seabed Authority (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2000, will enable the Government to ratify the protocol on the privileges and immunities of the International Seabed Authority, which was published and presented to Parliament in February under cover of an explanatory memorandum.

The authority is an institution created by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, known as UNCLOS, to organise and control activities on the deep seabed beyond the jurisdiction of any state, protecting its resources as the common heritage of mankind. The UK is a member of the authority by virtue of its accession to UNCLOS in August 1997.

UNCLOS provides that the authority, to enable it to exercise its functions, shall enjoy in the territory of each state party certain privileges and immunities. The International Seabed Authority (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1996 (SI 1996/270) gives effect to those privileges and immunities in UK law. The states parties to UNCLOS, however, have recognised that certain additional privileges and immunities are necessary for the effective exercise of the functions of the authority. The protocol provides for those additional privileges and immunities. It is based substantially on Articles I, II, IV, V, V1 and VII of the conventions on the privileges and immunities of the United Nations and of the specialised agencies. The proposed order will give effect in UK law to the protocol and the relevant provisions of UNCLOS in one instrument and will, therefore, revoke the 1996 order.

The order is also made under the International Organisations Act 1968 and in accordance with Section 1(6) (a) of that Act, the privileges and immunities conferred are no greater in extent than those required by UNCLOS and the protocol or those authorised by the Act. I very much hope that your Lordships will in due course approve these orders, which are modest and non-controversial.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on be 19th June approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Bach.)

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, these two orders are not controversial so far as I am concerned. I have nothing to add to the order covering the European Court of Human Rights. It appears to be an obvious and necessary consequence of the 11th protocol.

As regards the International Seabed Authority order, I should like to ask one question and to put one point to the Minister. My question is: where is the authority situated? Obviously, that will have a significant effect on the impact of the order. The point that I should like the Minister to note is that I think it is a little unusual—I do not know whether it is unique—that this order appears to cover both an international authority—the authority itself—and what is in effect a commercial organisation, an enterprise that is so far inchoate. Presumably it will be acting, when it comes into effect, under a more limited form of immunity which is appropriate to a commercial organisation rather than what one might call a legal institution. I should be glad of a brief explanation of that point.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I, too, have no objection to either of these orders, other than that both were laid before the House on 19th June, and that we have received them with manuscript amendments this afternoon—or perhaps I should say tonight. Why was the department yet again not able to print the orders properly?

The orders merely add to a long list of people being given immunities and privileges. As I see it, that mostly involves being able to escape the payment of parking tickets and such like. Can the Minister say how many people are likely to be involved in this exercise?

As regards the European Court of Human Rights order, I believe that it states that anyone who comes to this country to give evidence and so forth will form a part of this exemption. I hope that the department will publish on an annual basis the number of parking tickets attracted by diplomats and other international organisations and that both of the organisations mentioned here will be included on that list. Furthermore, I hope that such organisations will be warned that they should not abuse the immunity that they are about to be given.

Lord Bach

I am grateful to the two noble Lords who have spoken. The headquarters of the authority are in Jamaica, to respond to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. In relation to the Enterprise, that is an organ of the authority which, in due course, will carry out activities directly in the area, in other words on the deep seabed beyond the jurisdiction of any state. It is not yet functioning independently. When it does so, Article 14 of the order that we are debating shall come into force.

As regards the number of people in the United Kingdom enjoying diplomatic privileges and immunities, I am conscious that what we have discussed in regard to the Court of Human Rights order is those who use the Court of Human Rights, whether lawyers or people whose cases are being heard there, as well as those who sit there. To answer the noble Lord's question, 2,602 officials in the United Kingdom with their families are entitled to full diplomatic privileges and immunities. That includes 13 high officers of international organisations and 64 non-permanently resident members of the Commonwealth Secretariat, which is the same by Act of Parliament as a diplomatic mission. There are a further 1,942 officials in the UK serving in diplomatic missions and the Commonwealth Secretariat who, with their families, are entitled to rather more restrictive privileges and immunities. In the case of international organisations, 2,601 staff members enjoy immunity only in respect of their official acts. Their emoluments are also exempt from United Kingdom tax, provided that they are neither UK nationals nor permanent residents there. They enjoy relief from Customs duties on their furniture and personal effects at the time of the installation in this country. They enjoy no other privileges. I bet that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, did not expect as full an answer to his query as that! I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.