HL Deb 28 February 2005 vol 670 cc12-3

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Commonwealth Secretariat]:

[Amendment not moved.]

An amendment (privilege) made.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(Baroness Crawley.)

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I trust that it is for the convenience of the House that my noble friend Lord Stoddart and I did not table any amendments at this Third Reading, which might have taken up quite a lot more of your Lordships' time than will the briefest of comments as the Bill leaves your Lordships' House.

In common, I suspect, with most people in this country who do not form part of the growing political and bureaucratic élite, which is taking over more control of our daily lives, I do not think that this Bill should pass.

I suppose that the Bill does one useful thing. By granting new and entirely unnecessary privileges and immunities to a swathe of international bodies and those who are fortunate enough to work for them, it at least makes us sit up and take notice of the wide range of bodies which already enjoy the special status of the new apparat. Let us hope that some good may come of that awareness.

However, I leave the Bill with the comment that the Government have not come near to justifying this extension of diplomatic immunity, designed for mutual protection between sovereign states, to a large number of bodies and people who clearly neither deserve it nor need it. At earlier stages of the Bill, I pressed the Government on the fundamental question of why the bodies and their servants needed these privileges, so I shall not repeat it now. But I fear that the Government have not been able to answer the question at all satisfactorily. They simply assert that the bodies and their servants need these privileges and immunities to function, but they have been unable to say why they need them or why they could not function without them. That is the point I would like to leave with your Lordships as the Bill proceeds to another place. I hope that the question may be pursued there and that the process of reversing these unnecessary and divisive privileges may therefore at last begin. In the mean time,I thank the government spokesmen on the Bill, the noble Baronesses, Lady Symons and Lady Crawley, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for their unfailing courtesy and attention throughout our proceedings. They have been trying to justify the unjustifiable, but at least they have done it very politely, and I thank them for that.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I shall say a few words in support of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I also join him in thanking and congratulating all those noble Lords on the Government side, and indeed those on the Opposition side, who took part in interesting Committee and Report stages.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in being concerned about the proliferation of bodies that are being given immunity. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, first raised the question of a growing élite in the Diplomatic Service and other organisations outside it. He said that it would eventually cause great concern among the public because they would believe that there was one law for a given set of people—an élite—and another law for others.

As the Bill passed through Committee and Report stages, where it received a pretty good airing and was certainly subjected to critical analysis, noble Lords tried to throw some light on what was actually happening. I hope, therefore, that, when the Government take the Bill to another place, they will have taken note of the opinions of this House. If they do that, perhaps they will be a little more careful about granting any future immunities than they have been on this occasion.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, while I thank the noble Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Stoddart, for their kind remarks about the Government Front Bench, their points have been raised at all stages of the Bill and have been responded to—obviously not to their satisfaction. I leave them with the thought that I have certainly articulated in my responses; namely, that privileges and immunities are conferred on organisations to ensure that they are able to carry out their functions unimpeded.

On Question, Bill passed and sent to the Commons.