HL Deb 09 December 2004 vol 667 cc1052-9

3.36 p.m.

Baroness Crawley rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16 September be approved [29th Report from the Joint Committee, Session 2003–04].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Agency for International Trade Information and Co-operation (Legal Capacities) Order 2004 be approved. It was laid before the House on 16 September, together with an Explanatory Memorandum, now required for all affirmative statutory instruments. In moving the order, for the convenience of the House, I should also like to speak the draft International Criminal Court (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2004. It was laid before the House on 24 November, again with an Explanatory Memorandum, now required for all affirmative statutory instruments.

The first draft order will enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the Agreement establishing the Agency for International Trade Information and Co-operation as an Intergovernmental Organisation, which was signed on behalf of the United Kingdom in 2002.

The Geneva-based Agency for International Trade Information and Co-operation, known as AITIC, was originally established in 1998 as a Swiss non-governmental organisation. It became an intergovernmental organisation in 2002 and provides valuable support to those World Trade Organisation members with little or no representation in Geneva. Its aim is to assist the least developed, low and middle-income counties and economies in transition to benefit from the multilateral trading system and to participate more actively in the work of the WTO and other trade-related organisations.

The agreement establishing the AITIC includes provision, in Article 13, requiring members to give AITIC legal capacity: in particular the capacity to contract; to acquire and dispose of immovable and movable property; and to institute legal proceedings. The draft order will enable the UK to give effect to that provision. The draft order will confer only legal capacity on AITIC and will not result in any privileges and immunities in the United Kingdom for AITIC or its staff.

UK ratification of the agreement will allow the Department for International Development to release the funds it has allocated to support AITIC: £1 million over three years. It will also allow the UK to become a full member of the AITIC council of representatives and play an active role in that worthwhile organisation.

The second order, the International Criminal Court (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2004, as noble Lords will note, revokes an earlier order of 2002: SI 2002/793. The present order is required to enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Criminal Court, which was signed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government on 10 September 2002, immediately following its adoption by the first Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute.

One of our obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is to ensure that staff of the International Criminal Court and those involved in proceedings before the court can enjoy the necessary levels of privileges and immunities in order to allow the court to operate effectively. That is the purpose of this order.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent court, situated in The Hague. The purpose of the ICC is to try individuals for some of the most serious crimes known to mankind; namely, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and, perhaps in the future, the crime of aggression. There have been aspirations for the creation of such a court for the past 50 years, since the United Nations was founded in 1945 and after the Nuremberg and Tokyo military tribunals.

The ICC has jurisdiction over individuals not states. The court is able to prosecute not only those who carry out crimes, but also those in authority who order crimes to be committed, including heads of state and government officials. The ICC works as a court that is "complementary" to national courts. National courts retain primary jurisdiction. The ICC will take over investigating and prosecuting a crime only when the states with jurisdiction are unable or unwilling genuinely to do so.

The ICC consists of a chamber of 18 judges divided into pre-trial, trial and appeals division, an independent prosecutor and a registry. The ICC statute contains detailed provisions safeguarding due process and fair trial in accordance with the highest international standards. The ICC may sentence individuals to terms of imprisonment of up to 30 years or, where justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person, life imprisonment. Fines and forfeiture of proceeds from the crimes in question may also be ordered.

Funding is through contributions from states parties to the court and it also receives some funding from the United Nations, in particular where the UN Security Council has referred a situation. I am satisfied that both orders are compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 16 September be approved [29th Report from the Joint Committee, Session 2003–04].—(Baroness Crawley.)

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments in moving these two orders, on which I have a number of points to make. The Agency for International Trade Information and Co-operation is a body which, as the order says, asserts that there is no public or media interest—or at least in this order. I suppose that that is right, although one of the many useful roles of this Chamber is that we can drum up a little public interest or focus a beady eye on organisations that others may think are too small to merit concern or appear on the radar screen of normal accountability.

Nevertheless, they draw taxpayers' and public money. As the noble Baroness has explained, there are moneys to be released by the department for their use, which I think is £1 million of taxpayers' money. So it is right that we should keep an eye on these issues and even if there is no vast media interest, there is a process of accountability that must be performed.

The AITIC is a very small organisation and without a doubt its mission is valuable. Its aim is to place developing countries on more equal terms in the whole process of trade and commercial negotiation round the globe, on which it depends for getting a decent voice and a decent outcome for its development.

3.45 p.m.

There is a puzzle to which I shall probably turn in regard to the later orders. I wonder why we are dealing now with all of these immunities, yet there is a significant Bill coming up only a week away from today, which is another version of an international organisations Bill. I say "another version" because we had one in 1968 and another in 1981. That will deal extensively with immunities of a whole range of organisations.

I wonder why it is that we are dealing with orders this week which, presumably, flow from the mother Bills of the past and the International Organisations Act 1968 and others, when another Act, which will no doubt give birth to another great flood of instruments and orders, is about to come up. That is puzzling, but I shall go into that in more detail in a moment.

More generally, these immunities, which we are ready to grant in accordance with our international undertakings and the undertakings of many other countries, are considerable. When we turn to the next order, I shall read out the enormous list of immunities that we are about to grant, which go a very long way.

Of course, immunities carry responsibilities. Those who are accorded the privileges and immunities under these orders in international organisations must never forget that their immunity should go hand-in-hand with proper respect for local laws and customs and that they are not just a ticket to freedom from the normal constraints of law and respect in the communities in which they happen to live and mostly work. In the case of the AITIC, we are referring to Geneva, but in other cases it is obviously the UK. They should not just be accorded a freedom to do as they wish.

That is all that I wish to say on the AITIC order. We play—I repeat—an important part in ensuring that these small organisations are watched and their activities, while supported, are nevertheless required to be in accordance with proper standards of international behaviour and procedures.

I now turn to the second order which concerns the International Criminal Court. Of course, this is a subject that we debated at enormous length in this Chamber two or three years ago. As the noble Baroness has reminded us, the decision sets up the first permanent international court in history above national control. Therefore, all the more should we be very concerned with ensuring that there is proper accountability and procedures in such bodies as this. Otherwise, they are always in danger of becoming too remote from the sources of their funds and their original legitimacy, which are the nation states of the earth.

However, that does not include all the nation states of the earth. We know that America has not signed on because it feels that its national procedures for dealing with international criminal behaviour, atrocities and war crimes are adequate and is concerned about handing power to higher courts. But that is their opinion. It is not our opinion: this nation has signed up. Having signed up, we now propose to give very big immunities.

Puzzle number one from this side of the House is why, again, are we doing this this week when next week we have a Bill coming forward which, in its Explanatory Notes, states: Under existing legislation the UK is unable to confer privileges and immunities on these organisations", which includes the International Criminal Court? That is nonsense. That is the explanation of next week's Bill, but here we are a week before the Bill has even had its Second Reading in this House granting those immunities and privileges to one of those organisations. We need an explanation of why that nonsensical statement is to appear. If it cannot be given today, I have to say that my noble friend Lady Rawlings, who is to deal with the Second Reading of the proposed Bill next week, will wish to pursue it. There seems to be a mismatch, dysfunction or non-connection here which needs to be clarified.

Turning to the immunities, this is a very long list. I do not want to take the time of noble Lords by going through it in detail, but it includes immunities not only from personal arrest and legal process of every kind, but also exemption from taxation on salaries, emoluments and allowances; exemption from national service—this to include the families of members of the ICC and staff forming part of their households—exemption from immigration restrictions and alien registration; exemption from inspection of personal baggage; the same privileges in respect of currency and exchange facilities as those afforded to officials of comparable rank in diplomatic missions; and the right to import free of duties and taxes, except for payments of services, their furniture and effects at the time of first taking up their posts, which is fair enough.

These are generous immunities and again, they must go hand in hand with responsibilities. We need to mark that very carefully indeed. I understand that next week's Bill will extend these immunities and privileges to even more groups. We do not have the power now to extend these provisions to certain groups, so we need a new Bill to do so. There is more to come. We would like to know what that "more" is and my noble friend Lady Rawlings will certainly pursue it. However, one is left with the slightly uneasy feeling that this is a machine handing out very substantial immunities in a rather puzzling sequence, about which we would like to know more.

This is not the time to debate the nature of the International Criminal Court, which is only just getting under way. We hope that it achieves its mission, and does so in a way that commands the confidence of the world and does not generate in any way politically motivated intrusions into the affairs of nation states in the manner in which many expressed their fears at the time. We hope it can avoid that and do good in the spirit in which it was set up.

That is all I have to say on the matter and on the two orders. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for setting out their purpose.

5.52 p.m.

Lord Dykes

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has asked some interesting and pertinent questions and I hope that when the Minister comes to respond, she will take the opportunity to reply to those points. The Minister was kind enough to suggest taking the two draft orders together, although the subjects are totally different except for the shared concept of the application of immunities and privileges. I shall deal with them in the order in which they are set out on the Order Paper.

Turning to the Agency for International Trade Information and Co-operation, Members on these Benches and the Liberal Democrat Party welcome the approval of this draft order as the necessary instrumentation for taking forward the underlying legislation for the creation of this agency. Without straying too far from the order before us, I want briefly to speak more generally. This will be of great interest to the public at large when they begin to focus on the subject. Indeed, that will be a growing phenomenon in the future. Through this agency, third world countries, those with fewer resources and smaller populations, and those which are not as wealthy as the advanced western world and advanced countries in other parts of the world, will have the opportunity to access information on trade and co-operation of all kinds.

It is my view and, I suspect, that of most Members of this House that world trade itself certainly does need "universalisation", given the deleterious effects on the third world of many of the advanced world's international and intra-national trade arrangements—not least the effects of some of the developments within the WTO itself and the changes that will need to be made during the various rounds that are taking place on a constant basis. However, perhaps that is straying too far from the specifics of this document.

I believe that the immunities and privileges suggested for AITIC in the draft order are rational and sensible. They have a conventional look about them—if that is not too rash a thing to say. Therefore I, too, support the order.

Moving on to the draft order in respect of the International Criminal Court, we turn now to a much bigger subject—although I suppose that nothing could be as important as world trade. The International Criminal Court is brand new and its creation has seemingly been warmly welcomed in various parts of the world; this is obviously a very early stage for the body. It is getting under way right now and will take some time to develop. No doubt a lot of experiential evidence will be gathered in the future, which will enable the court to improve its procedures, customs and behaviour and, indeed, its juridical work. That is its main purpose in a world which is increasingly indivisible. We are one planet and there is now strong pressure for international justice in respect of those individuals—the court is reserved for individuals and not for individual countries—who commit war crimes. It is still very early days for this whole panoply of international legislation and time will be needed for it to develop.

In the mean time, in order to arm the International Criminal Court with the appropriate procedural, practical and administrative immunities that are, as we know, the convention under such international arrangements and treaties, it is important that the corpus of immunities set out in this legislation should be quite considerable. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, implied, that is not to say that one should not be concerned to ensure that these immunities and privileges apply specifically to the people directly involved in the processes, behaviour and procedures of the court and do not stray beyond that immediate remit. Presumably that would include the definition of "household", which has already been referred to in the debate. It must be the immediate, practical and functioning household rather than any wider definition.

Speaking personally, and not being a legal expert, on balance the text looks perfectly satisfactory. However, I would also welcome the Minister's reassurance on that point.

With those words, Members on these Benches support both of the orders. They address totally different subjects but deal with necessary privileges and the corpus of immunities.

3.56 p.m.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Dykes, for their positive response to these important orders. I have taken note of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on the need to look seriously at such provisions. They may not attract much attention in the media, but these matters involve public money and therefore we have to be sensible about the whole issue of accountability and effectiveness.

I shall start by addressing the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on AITIC and the forthcoming International Organisations Bill, which will receive its Second Reading next week. I understand that the reason for bringing forward this order on AITIC is because it does not deal with privileges and immunities. Those will be addressed in the Bill, while this order deals only with legal capacity. The AITIC order gives legal capacity only to the list of issues I referred to at the opening of our debate: the acquisition and disposal of immovable and movable property and so forth. It does not confer immunities and privileges. That is why it is not in conflict with the Bill to be brought forward next week. Does the noble Lord wish to speak? I am sure that he will read my remarks in Hansard, and that if she feels it necessary to do so, the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, will bring this matter up again in our debate on Second Reading next week.

The noble Lord also asked why we are conferring privileges and immunities by means of the ICC order when a Bill is to come before the House next week. I am advised that the Bill will give the UK the power to confer privileges and immunities on categories of persons connected with the ICC, but not covered by this order. Those persons are family members of judges, prosecutors, deputy prosecutors, registrars and representatives of states participating in the assembly. I am sure the noble Lord will wish to return to this issue on Second Reading.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, why on earth are these new categories not included in the orders with which we are dealing today. I do not wish to pre-empt next week's debate, but it seems bizarre that we are dishing out these extensive immunities to a court that was set up a couple of years ago, and now someone has thought up a whole new category of people with which we are going to deal next week. Would it not have been more reasonable in terms of public accountability and procedures to have put all these matters together?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, perhaps I may read the long version. The noble Lord may get some solace from it.

The legal basis of the ICC order is the International Criminal Court Act 2001. It was, however, not possible to use the provisions of that Act to confer privileges and immunities on family members of the judges of the court and on representatives of states participating in the assembly and its subsidiary organs and representatives of international organisations as required by the ICC privileges and immunities agreement.

The International Organisations Bill, which was laid before the House on 24 November, will amend the 2001 Act to enable us to confer privileges and immunities on these persons by an Order in Council which will he made once the Bill enters into force. So there we have it. I am sure that it will all be as clear as daylight on Second Reading next week.

The noble Lord asked how we will ensure that AITIC is effective. Both noble Lords referred to the fact that there is a great responsibility involved in both organisations. We will participate actively in the council of representatives, as we have done in the preparatory committee. Our aim is to ensure that AITIC follows best management practice in its operations and meets the needs of its clients effectively.

In relation to the ICC, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, asked why we are covering the extent of immunities and privileges that we are. The UK is under an international obligation to confer all privileges and immunities contained in the ICC agreement on privileges and immunities. The order does no more than that. The UK is not conferring any privileges or immunities that are not required by the agreement.

With those explanations, I hope that both orders will be accepted.

On Question, Motion agreed to.