I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges of the Council of Europe) (Amendment) Order, 1954, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 12th May.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the leave of the House, I should like to take this and the following eight Orders together. They raise similar points, and I shall, if that course is permitted, explain the differences as I speak.
We on this side have individual points to take up on several of the Orders. There are, as the Joint Under-Secretary has said, nine of them. Speaking for myself, I should have thought that it would be for the convenience of the House if they were all taken together so that we could make our points in the course of the debate.
I think that that course will probably commend itself to the House. I am always glad to agree to any process which it is considered will expedite business.
I would point out that all these Orders are founded on a statute passed by this House, the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act. In the course of a general discussion it would be quite permissible to discuss the Orders in general, but of course the statute itself is an Act of Parliament, and the principles laid down in it would not properly arise on the individual Orders.
I apologise to the House for the fact that my first intervention in my new office should be to present such a formidable array of Orders, which are themselves of such a complicated character and deal with matters extending in history over a period that goes outside the lifetime of the present Parliament. If, in presenting these Orders, I lack any clarity in my exposition, I hope that the House will grant me the customary indulgence and allow me to clear up any points which hon. Members may wish to raise in the course of the debate, and any points which I have left obscure in my speech, at the end of the debate.
Her Majesty's Government submit for the approval of the House seven new Orders in Council and two amendments to existing Orders in Council which it is proposed to make under the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950. The House will recollect that Section 6 of that Act provides that Orders made under it should be laid before Parliament in draft, and should not be submitted to Her Majesty except in pursuance of an Address presented by each House praying that the Orders in Council be made.
The draft Orders in Council which have been laid before both Houses of Parliament are designed to fulfil certain obligations which Her Majesty's Government have undertaken or desire to undertake as a result of their membership of the following organisations: first, the Council of Europe; second, the European Payments Union; third, the International Civil Aviation Organisation; fourth, the International Telecommunication Union; fifth, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; sixth, the Universal Postal Union; seventh, the World Meteorological Organisation; eighth, the Customs Co- operation Council; and ninth, the International Sugar Council.
The purpose of these Orders in Council is to permit the authorities in the United Kingdom to grant to these international organisations and their personnel treatment similar to that which other countries already grant. If I might divide these nine Orders, I would point out that two of them, as I have said, amend existing Orders in Council; three of them deal with Specialised Agencies of the United Nations—and the House will remember that under the International Convention adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 21st November, 1947, and ratified by us in 1949, we agreed to grant privileges and immunities to certain personnel from those Specialised Agencies. Of the remaining four, two are in effect ratifying agreements which we have made, and two are fulfilling undertakings which we have made in agreements that have already been ratified.
Before dealing with these Orders in detail, I should like to make three general remarks on them. First, I think it is important that this country, which since the war has taken such a leading part, under successive Governments, in negotiations for the establishment of these international organisations, should carry out in full all her obligations in these respects. Secondly, there is a further, slightly less altruistic, consideration. It is, I submit, in the interests of this country to give these international organisations every incentive to hold their meetings in the United Kingdom and to establish their headquarters here. So long as they are uncertain whether their officials will enjoy the same conditions as those afforded by other countries these international organisations may be deterred from coming to this country.
London is rightly regarded by us as especially suited for this purpose. We hold it to be, and the history of the recent London Conference is strong evidence in support of our belief, the natural centre of effort to all international co-operation. I claim, therefore, the approval of these Orders as being in the interest both of national prestige and of the inflow of foreign currency.
My final general observation is this: I must begin it with an apology, which I hope the whole House will accept. There has been considerable delay in the presentation of these Orders. One Order, in particular, dates back to 1949. Through an oversight, this Order was not presented in the time of our predecessors or in the earlier years of this Parliament, that is the third Order, the amending Order regarding the International Civil Aviation Organisation. May I say in extenuation that before the Orders are presented considerable consultation between various Departments is necessary, and this machinery inevitably takes time?
Still, I accept on behalf of Her Majesty's Government our responsibility for our share of this delay, which was adversely commented upon in the Third Report of the Committee on Public Accounts. It is in compliance with the assurance given to the Public Accounts Committee that these Orders are brought together before the House tonight. I will give this undertaking, that every endeavour will be made in the future to avoid any repetition of this delay.
I now turn to the detailed consideration of the individual Orders. The first Order is the Immunities and Privileges of the Council of Europe (Amendment) Order. This is required to enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the Protocol signed at Strasbourg on 6th November, 1952, which amends the provisions of the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe signed at Paris on 2nd September, 1949. The General Agreement was ratified by Her Majesty's Government on 29th September, 1950, and came into force on 10th September, 1952.
The amending Protocol has two purposes. First the practice since the Council of Europe was established has shown that preparatory and working committees or sub-committees are necessary for the efficient despatch of the work of the Committee of Ministers and the Consultative Assembly. No provision relating to representatives attending such committees or sub-committees was made in the General Agreement and the Protocol, when it is ratified, will make the necessary amendments to the Agreement. Secondly, permanent representatives of member Governments to the Council of Europe have now been appointed, and the Protocol requires that diplomatic privileges and immunities should be conferred upon them. As the seat of the permanent representatives is at Strasbourg, it is doubtful if any of the privileges and immunities would be claimed by them.
The second Order deals with Immunities and Privileges of the European Payments Union, and is required to enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the Agreement for the establishment of a European Payments Union which was concluded at Paris on 19th September, 1950. Article 24 of the Agreement pro- vides for the grant of certain privileges and immunities to the Union and to its funds and assets. The Agreement can come into force only on ratification of all the signatories, but by a Protocol of Provisional Application bearing the same date the signatories undertook to apply its provisions in advance of ratification.
The House will recollect that now the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer as his alternate, holds the chair of the Council of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation which controls the European Payments Union. It is therefore, I submit, most desirable that Her Majesty's Government should be able to regularise their position by the ratification of the European Payments Union Agreement. All that the present Order does is to give the Union immunity from suit and legal process and exemption from taxation in respect of its property. In the present circumstances, that is all that is necessary.
The third Order deals, as I have mentioned, with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and is an amending Order. It enables Her Majesty's Government to fulfil all their obligations under the Convention of the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialised Agencies to which they acceded in August, 1949. Her Majesty's Government are committed to accord privileges and immunities to representatives of member Governments of the Organisation attending its Assembly and executive body, also to any Commission provided for in its Constitution and also to any committee of either of these two bodies. The original Order made provision only for representatives of member Governments to the Council of the Organisation, and therefore it is necessary to have an amending Order in order to include members of the committees. It is noticeable, as I mentioned before, that in this respect it is regretted that Her Majesty's Government have, in effect, been in breach of their obligation since 1949.
I ought, in order to make it clear, to take the Orders, four, six and seven, together, because they are Specialised Agency Orders, and the same points arise under the Telecommunications Union, the U.P.U. and the World Meteorological Organisation. These are required to enable Her Majesty's Government to notify the Secretary General of the United Nations, in accordance with Section 43 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities for the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations, that they undertake to apply the provisions of the Convention to the three bodies concerned.
It is the view of Her Majesty's Government that it is their duty to accede to this Convention in respect of these Specialised Agencies not previously provided for. The United Kingdom is a member of all these Agencies, and it would be improper for Her Majesty's Government to enjoy the advantages of membership without granting to them the privileges and immunities which have been approved for them.
The fifth Order is that relating to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In this case the purpose of the Order is to enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the Agreement on the status of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation signed at Ottawa on 20th September, 1951. The Agreement has already been ratified by eight signatory Governments and came into force with the instrument of ratification on 18th May, 1954.
The Order is broadly similar to Orders in Council previously made in respect of the International Organisation. It will, however, be noted that those parts of this Order relating to Income Tax exemptions are retrospective to 30th September, 1951. This is because when the Agreement was signed the North Atlantic Council deputies adopted a resolution recommending that signatory States should give effect to the Agreement provisionally to the greatest extent possible. Moreover, the salaries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation civilian staff were fixed with our concurrence at a scale which assumed that they would not be liable to Income Tax in the United Kingdom. There is, therefore, a strong obligation to make this Order retrospective as regards Income Tax as laid down in the Order.
The eighth Order deals with the Customs Co-operation Council and is to enable Her Majesty's Government to fulfil their obligations under Article XIII and the Annexe to the Convention establishing the Customs Co-operation Council signed at Brussels on 15th December, 1950. The Convention was ratified by Her Majesty's Government on 12th September, 1952, and it came into force on 4th November, 1952. The Order is substantially similar to other Orders in respect to similar organisations, but the exemption from Income Tax granted to other officials of the Council by Article 12 (b) of the draft Order is made retroactive from 4th November, 1952, in order to make provision for the exemption from Income Tax of salaries already paid since the Convention came into force. Without such a provision, without this Order, Her Majesty's Government would be in breach of the obligations assumed by them as parties to the Convention.
Finally, I come to the International Sugar Council Order. This is required to enable Her Majesty's Government to fulfil their obligations under Article 27 (6) and Article 38 (6) of the International Agreement for the Regulation of the Production and Marketing of Sugar signed at London in October, 1953. The seat of the International Sugar Council is established by that Agreement in London. The Agreement provides for the accord of Her Majesty's Government to the International Sugar Council of such legal capacity as may be necessary for the discharge of its functions, and, furthermore, for the exemption from taxation of the funds of the Council and of the remuneration paid to those of its employees who are not citizens of the United Kingdom or Colonies. The Order fulfils our obligations in these respects. It does not give Income Tax exemption to those who are citizens of the United Kingdom or the Colonies.
In conclusion, I repeat the undertaking which I gave at the beginning, that I shall be happy to reply at the end of the debate to any points that are raised and to explain any obscurities. I have to assist me my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General who will be prepared to deal with any questions that are essentially legal in character and which would be beyond the wit of the Foreign Office.
It is a very pleasant task to have to welcome to his new appointment the present Minister. It is a task which I discharge with great pleasure, especially as he was a member of my own college in Oxford many years ago. The whole House will be grateful to him for having performed the duty of explaining these complicated matters with the lucidity which he displayed.
There are nine Orders. Each contains a great many provisions all of which are of importance to the ordinary citizens of the country who do not get the privileges and immunities which the Orders confer upon a limited and privileged few. At the outset I should like to express my own personal agreement with a number of the Minister's general observations on the situation.
As the world progresses and the efforts at international co-operation become more extended, we should do all that we can to further those efforts. Where it may be shown that it is necessary for the proper functioning of international organisations that special privileges should be conferred, we should be ready to confer those privileges and possibly, in an effort to further general good will among nations in this very troubled and distracted world, we should be prepared to err—not too much but to some extent —on the side of generosity. Nevertheless, we should watch very carefully what we are doing in this respect.
It must be remembered that whenever we confer a privilege on some member of these manifold organisations we are, correspondingly, infringing the rights of other citizens who may be affected by their actions. I shall call attention to some of the provisions of the Orders which would seem, if I read them aright, to have the result that a person of this country injured by the negligent driving of these various privileged individuals, in motor cars, for example, may have absolutely no redress. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General will perhaps be able to assist upon this. It may be that it is inevitable, for the reasons which the 'Minister explained, that these privileges should be conferred. I recognise at once that the Government to which I belonged entered into many of the agreements which have given rise to these Orders, just as the present Government have.
Therefore, to the extent that privileges have been given in too large a measure, if that is the case, it is a fault which is incumbent upon both sides of the House. I hope that the Minister can assure us and that the Solicitor-General can confirm that each of them is personally satisfied, from his researches and the advice of the expert advisers, that the privileges conferred by the Orders do not in any material respect go beyond the obligations which either the present Government or the previous Government assumed in the various agreements which are being implemented.
The number of Orders is formidable. There are no fewer than nine before us now. It is right to ask the Minister, with a view to giving some idea to the House and to the general public, how many persons in this country can lay claim to these various privileges, large and small. What is the approximate number of persons who may drive motor cars with impunity in the streets of our country without, as far as I can understand, fearing criminal or civil processes as a result of negligent or dangerous driving? Perhaps the Minister would be good enough to give some idea of how many motor cars we should look out for and keep out of the way of when we move about the streets.
I agree, but I should like to know the approximate number of people who may drive motor-cars without fear of legal consequences as a result of negligence or dangerous driving. Obviously the Minister cannot give me an exact figure, but I should be obliged if he would give a general indication of the extent to which these privileges are conferred.
Those are the general observations. I am broadly in sympathy with the purpose of the Orders and I do not approach the matter in any sense of hostility. These privileges have to be conferred, in proper cases, and probably the whole House, once it is convinced of the necessity in any individual case of giving those privileges, will readily give them. Hon. Members are anxious to know the scope of the immunity which those who enjoy the privileges possess.
I wish to make some observations about some of the Orders. I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us on these matters. My first observation is about the Universal Postal Union. The Order which is before us is one which, so far as I can ascertain from my researches, is very nearly identical, if not quite identical, with an Order which was brought before the House by the last Socialist Government. The late Government brought this identical, or nearly identical, Order before the House in July, 1950.
When it went before another place some criticisms were directed to that Order. They were searching and penetrating criticisms which I do not suggest were in any way unjustified. As a result the Lord Chancellor in that Government thought it right to ask permission to withdraw the Order which was before the House and, in consequence, that Order was withdrawn. Those criticisms, to which I shall advert in a few moments, are criticisms which apply fairly generally to most of the Orders because they arise on wording which appears in a number of them in almost identical form.
The criticisms were directed against the Order and the Lord Chancellor asked permission to withdraw it, and he did. Somewhat over four years have elapsed and we now find the present Government introducing the self-same Order which was subjected to such violent criticism. I do not say that it was over-violent or unjustified criticism but it was searching, penetrating, strict and rigid criticism from Members in the other House of the party to which the Minister belongs. I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us that there is a perfectly good reason for that change of heart.
I had hoped that when the Order was reintroduced by the present Government it would be stripped of those objectionable features which gave rise to the strictures which led to its withdrawal in July, 1950. So far as I can tell, however, these objectionable features are still present. As they are features which appear very generally in most of the Orders, perhaps it will not be unduly taking the time of the House if I refer to one or two of them.
I take, for example, the case of the driving of motor-cars. After all, motorcar driving is an occupation which takes some considerable time of most of our citizens. Article 10 of the Order deals with "Other officials of the Union." We are not dealing here with the organisation as a whole, with representatives of high standing or leading lights in the Union; we are simply dealing with persons who are lumped together in the article under the heading of "Other officials of the Union."
I am dealing with Article 10. Article 9 is in similar form. The point made in another place, which seems to have force, is applicable to Article 10, which says that the other officials of the Union are to have:
…immunity from suit and legal process in respect of words spoken or written and things done or omitted to be done by them in the course of the performance of their official duties.…
I suppose that if one of them is driving a car—I do not know why we harp so much on cars, but perhaps it is because our streets are so full of them—and goes on the pavement and runs over an old lady, nothing can be done about it. That was pointed out before, and it seems to me that that criticism can still be made against the article. I should like to know why the Order now reappearing before us does not have another garb, and why it has not been toned down to some extent if that is possible.
It may be that in the case of some of these Orders the Government are bound by agreements which have been entered into. However, I am sure that the Minister will agree that this Order relating to the Universal Postal Order—
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. That is the sort of thing that one dreams about. When it appears before us again in its present form, the Order still has this objectionable feature. I hope the Minister will be able to say why this must be so. We are not bound to agree to the Order and the Government are not bound in honour—I hope I shall be corrected if I am mistaken—to accord this privilege to the Union.
I would, in general, ask, as was asked in another place in July, 1950, whether it is really necessary for the Universal Postal Union to have these privileges conferred upon its officials. The Union has been in operation for 75 or 76 years and over the whole of that time its officials have not enjoyed the privileges which are now being conferred upon them. Why should they now have them? I am not necessarily saying that they should not have them, but I am asking the Minister to give us a rather fuller reason why, after 75 years of very useful existence in which it has functioned to the greatest advantage and benefit of mankind as a whole, the Union should at long last find it difficult to carry on its labours unless these privileges are conferred upon its officials. I do not put this forward in a hostile spirit; I ask for some further information to show that there has been a change in circumstances which now justifies the bringing forward of what was so severely attacked when it was brought forward in July, 1950, by the late Government.
The next Order to which I wish to refer is that relating to N.A.T.O. I appreciate that it is an Order to give effect to an agreement signed at Ottawa in 1951, and I accept that it is necessary, proper and beneficial to implement the provisions of that agreement. However, two special considerations arise on that Order.
The Minister has apologised—I am sure the House will accept his apology in the sense in which it was offered—for the delay which has occurred in the placing of a number of the Orders before the House. However, I am not sure, to use a colloquialism, that he should be allowed to get away with it as easily as that. I call the attention of the House to the very severe comment made in the Third Report of the Select Committee on Public Accounts for the Session 1953–54 with regard to the hon. Gentleman's own Department in relation to this Order. I refer the House to paragraphs 5 to 7 of the Report where, to summarise the relevant contents, it is pointed out that the Inland Revenue have been giving exemption from Income Tax to some 200 individuals who are officials of that Organisation from 1st July, 1951. I agree that that goes back to times just before the decline and fall of the late Government, but a long time has elapsed since then, and the Select Committee on Public Accounts obviously takes a very serious view of it. I think it is right to point out that the situation is made worse by the fact that it is stated in the Report that the Inland Revenue made repeated and urgent representations to the Foreign Office about it. The Committee says that it is a serious situation, and I think that the House ought to take note of that.
The Minister is, of course, bound to come here and say that he is sorry and that it will not be done again. It is not the Minister's fault; he has only just arrived at the Foreign Office. Nevertheless, it is a very serious situation if for about four years the Inland Revenue have made representations about unauthorised exemptions from Income Tax in respect of some 200 persons—I do not know how much is involved—and no heed has been taken of their representations until the present time.
The matter is still more complicated. As I read the Second Report of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, the exemption to which the Minister referred as having been granted from 9th September, 1951, by the terms of the Order relating to N.A.T.O. is said by that Committee to be, in any case, ultra vires. The Foreign Office, if it has fallen into serious error, if it is guilty of a grievous lapse and wishes to grant statutory authority to an exemption from Income Tax which has been granted for some four years past, should have taken the appropriate steps and put the lapse right by amendment of a statute. If the Report of the Select Committee is right, the Foreign Office has apparently sought to do that by an Order and has done it ultra vires.
I do not know whether in these circumstances the Minister is still going to ask the House to approve the Order. I can only say that the situation is an extremely regrettable one. It shows really shocking mishandling on the part of a Department over a long period of time. It is a situation which, from the point of ordinary legislative procedure and good order, is quite deplorable. The Minister ought seriously to consider whether he is going to ask the House to approve an Order with this serious blemish in it which really amounts to a kind of hole-and-corner way of covering up a serious lapse for which the Minister agrees there is really no serious kind of excuse.
I do not desire to refer in much detail to the other Orders. I would, however, say that the same Report by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments makes the same comment with regard to another Order. All the Orders, or a very large number of them, are very late, and one of them has been drafted in such a way as not to comply with the Statute, and another has been stated to be ultra vires—that one which relates to the Customs. There again, there is apparently an intention to grant retrospective exemption to other officials in respect of Income Tax, and that again, as the Report of the Select Committee says, is out of order. Really, that is pretty rough treatment, and not what we expect from the Government in the matter.
All these Orders are made under powers delegated to the Government by statute, which obviously ought to be very carefully exercised. If we are to have Governmental errors resulting in two out of nine Orders being ultra vires, it reflects not very highly on the competence of those who advise the Government and on the Ministries who act upon that advice. I think the Minister ought seriously to consider whether he will still ask the House tonight to approve the Order relating to the Customs Co-operation Council, in view of the fact that this Order transgresses the statute and purports to exercise a power which nobody has conferred upon the Government.
One could spend a great deal of time going through the various provisions of these Orders and pointing out the consequences which the exercise of the privileges which they confer may have on the ordinary citizen. For example, I have already referred to immunity in respect of words spoken. It may well be said that in some committees, perhaps indeed most committees, there should be protection against the law of libel. I have raised the question whether it is necessary to have that kind of privilege in the case of the International Telecommunication Union, and perhaps the Minister will say why it is necessary to accord it to an organisation of that sort or to the World Meteorological Organisation. Perhaps, in some organisations which deal with highly controversial matters some such protection is necessary, but the words are very widely drawn. The Order says:
(a) immunity from suit and legal process in respect of words spoken or written
and so on. It is true that that is qualified by the fact that it is provided that these
things must be done in the course of the performance of their official duties, but is it necessary to go quite as wide as that? Do the agreements which these Orders implement require the whole measure of that privilege to be conferred? It could mean that officials of the body in question might be walking along a street or sitting in a restaurant in conversation, and that all that they would have to do would be to say that they were discussing official topics and they would have conferred upon them immunity in respeq of anything they happened to say in the course of their conversation.
Perhaps the Solicitor-General will be able to help us. If, under this Government or the last Government, we promised by agreement to confer not less than that privilege, so be it, but the House will certainly wish to be assured that the Government have very carefully studied the question whether that kind of privilege is one which goes beyond the strict letter of the agreement which the Government are bound to implement in relation to the organisations in question.
I have called attention to some aspects of these Orders, and I feel sure that many of my hon. Friends who are very interested will call attention to other aspects. Speaking for myself, I should advise my hon. Friends not to divide against the Orders. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us the answers to some of these questions, and we reserve our position in case of no reasonable explanation being forthcoming in the case of the Universal Postal Union. We do not finally commit ourselves, but, subject to a reasonable explanation, I think it probable that my hon. Friends would think it right to agree that the Government should have these Orders.
I think we are entitled to call upon the Minister to supplement what he said by giving us more convincing reasons why these very extensive privileges in these Orders should be granted and to assure us that those privileges do not go one whit beyond what is necessary or has been covenanted for. In the case of the organisations where there does not seem to us to be a prima facie case, there is perhaps some reason of which we are unaware, but we will certainly listen to a statement of what that reason is. My hon. Friends will want to suspend judgment until they have heard the Minister or perhaps the Solicitor-General, if the latter is to intervene in the debate, and if either of them gives us a satisfactory reason, we would not wish to divide the House.
I should like to ask two or three questions of my hon. Friend, because I did not hear all of his speech, being out of the Chamber for part of it.
To what extent are we blazing the trail here? What other nations have agreed to these various international instruments and have also written into their domestic law the very considerable privileges we are asked to write into our domestic law? That seems to me to be a very pertinent question. It is difficult to go through all these Orders because they operate at different times and affect different countries, but there is no obligation upon this country to do more than other countries are doing in the matter. I should therefore like to know to what extent other countries are following the same course.
Secondly, I wish to protest against the view that, because the Government signed these agreements, we are in some sense morally pledged to ratify them in this House. In my submission, we should in some way be shirking our responsibility if we were to allow that theory to be spread about. After all, it is well known in international law that, when Her Majesty's Government sign an international instrument which affects our domestic affairs, it must be subject to the Parliament of this country passing the necessary law, and the promise given is a promise which is always subject to that condition. Therefore, it is not right for us to be told that we must pass these Orders because the Government have promised to enact them. The Government have promised no more than that they will submit them to the supreme legislative body for approval or disapproval, as the case may be. Therefore, we are entitled to reject these Orders if we think fit, without being accused of breaking Britain's word.
The third point is one of detail. The origin of diplomatic privilege was not the privilege of the diplomats, and certainly not that of the first or second secretary or the junior diplomat, but the privilege of the sovereign who was represented. The sovereign could waive the privilege of the diplomats, and that, I think, is reflected in these Orders to a great extent. The foundation of this matter is that it is necessary for the proper conduct of these people that they should have these extraordinary privileges while they are at work because they could not do their work without them. That is the theory. If that is so, why are these privileges not extended to British subjects who are in this country working for the Sugar Council, the Telecommunication Union, or whoever it is? Why does not the theory apply to British subjects as much as to anybody else?
I have here the proposed Order relating to the International Telecommunication Union. In Section B is a whole series of privileges, not merely tax privileges. I can understand the reason for not making exceptions for British subjects in that case. There are all sorts of other things which the representatives, other than representatives of Her Majesty's Government, on organisations or committees in the United Kingdom will get. For example, they have
immunity from personal arrest or detention and from seizure of their personal baggage and inviolability for all papers and documents.
They have also
Immunity from legal process.
This applies not only to the representatives themselves. The Order states:
For the purposes of the application of this Article the expression 'representatives' shall be deemed to include, in addition to the representatives, the following members of their official staffs accompanying them as such representatives:—
There is a whole host of people included as well as the representatives. If it is necessary for all these technical experts to have their personal baggage free from seizure in the United Kingdom—and I have no doubt it is—why should that not apply to British technical experts as well? What is in a British technical expert's baggage that makes it more seizable? Why should British subjects when working for the Sugar Council or the Telecommunication Union be liable
to have their papers seized, while non-British subjects are not? It seems an extraordinary discrimination and rather makes one doubt whether these privileges are necessary for the conduct of the job. If they are necessary for one, they are necessary for the other. Out of their own mouths, the Government have said that the privileges are not necessary for British secretaries and experts.
It is only in a qualified way that one can support these documents. I do not think there is anything in the argument that because the British Government have entered into these agreements there is some moral obligation on the Legislature to pass them. That is completely contrary to the spirit of negotiation of international instruments which require domestic legislation for their domestic enforcement. That argument does not weigh with me at all. What would weigh with me is if I were told that other countries have done these things not merely in name but have, in fact observed these privileges that it is agreed that all should have.
My own experience is that other countries frequently say that they have observed these treaties. They publish them sometimes in their official gazettes, which is often sufficient to give them the force of domestic law, but in practice the treaties are disregarded. It would be invidious for me to name any names, but hon. Members on both sides of the House have probably experienced in other countries that the privileges which are supposed to be accorded do not amount to very much. When we confer these very great privileges they do amount to something; they amount to what they say. That is another reason why we should not be particularly forward in granting privileges which our own people who serve on international bodies abroad do not enjoy.
I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will not think it an impertinence on my part if I add my congratulations to those of my right hon. and learned Friend on his promotion to his present office. He will remember that we came into the House together quite a number of years ago, and if during all that time we have not shared an idea or a vote, that is something about which the hon. Gentleman is more to be condoled with than otherwise.
We can approach this matter of the Orders in either of two moods. One is to say: "Let us grant such immunities as are strictly necessary to the performance of the jobs that have to be done, but grant nothing further or wider than that." That is the view which the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) favoured in his speech. The other is to say: "Why bother with narrow limitations? If we are to give what is accepted as a necessary immunity, let us do it generously and widely. We gain more by doing it that way than we shall lose." I confess that I prefer the second mood to the first.
I do not think it is valid to say, although it may be logical: "If we except all foreign citizens doing this job, then we ought to except our own citizens, too." That is not quite the point. The immunity is to enable the foreign citizen to discharge his function freely without fear of the inhibitions, interferences or preventive activities of the Government of the country in which he happens to be discharging his function, which interferences might be exercised in good faith or might not. We cannot help keeping our own citizens subject to our own laws but it is contended that we ought not to do that in the case of people who are not following our purposes solely, and certainly not their own individual purposes, but are discharging an international purpose.
The hon. Gentleman must not provoke me, or I might find myself making the kind of speech which I am tempted to make, and perhaps I might find myself in conflict with the Chair. I am indicating a personal preference. I do not want to argue it further or seek to establish one as preferable to the other, because that is not necessary for the purpose for which I intervened in the debate.
It seems to me that in modern conditions we are developing a kind of international civil service. I do not think that the idea of world government is yet in operation, but something of the principle of world government in liberties and agreed fears is certainly in operation, and it is quite clear that we cannot discharge those functions unless we have a skilled civil service of complete integrity and complete independence. If they are to feel themselves quite free from arbitrary interference on grounds which have nothing to do with their functions, it may be necessary to extend a rather wider degree of immunity than the narrow construction of the immediate job which they have to do might necessarily indicate.
Having said that, I would add—and I hope this will not embarrass him—that I am in complete agreement with the other point which the hon. Member made. I think that we have the right to ask for full and complete reciprocity. If we are to take the view that a wide degree of immunity is necessary, then we are entitled to ask all those countries who are engaged with us in the same adventure to grant the same degree of immunity as that which we are granting. If we cannot demand that because we cannot control the acts of other Governments, at least we can control our own acts and need not grant a degree of immunity which goes beyond that which is granted to our own citizens doing the corresponding job, or it may be precisely the same job, in the territory of another nation. This question of limiting the scope of the immunity can be territorial as well as functional.
It would not be the slightest use, for instance, to say that the official of a United Nations Specialised Agency should have complete diplomatic immunity once he was in the United States—giving this by way of example—if they would not let him in. Obviously the immunity which we grant can apply only after the necessary visas have been granted to enable him to travel to the spot where his job is to be done, and it is at that point where one can begin to introduce limitations on the necessary immunity—limitations which we have never applied, which I hope we never shall apply and which are certainly not included in these Orders.
If I explain my point, I hope that no one will accuse me of using the opportunity merely in order to make attacks on people or countries or governments. I am doing nothing of the kind. I only want to see what is the situation with which we are dealing.
The United States are absolutely entitled, as we are entitled, to say to themselves whom they will permit to enter their territory and whom they will exclude. We may have opinions as to the propriety or usefulness or statesmanship of it or the consequences of it to international relationships, but that is a matter of opinion only, and the right to impose conditions or the right to grant visas or the right to refuse them is obviously a matter which is part of the sovereign rights of any sovereign government and we are not entitled to criticise them. But we are bound to notice what happens, especially when we ourselves are invited to grant a complete and unlimited immunity.
What happens in these cases? The United States do not go as far as to say, in the case of persons they do not like,"We will not let you in." They say,"We will not let you in if you are coming for any private purpose," but in the case of persons who are covered by this class of diplomatic immunity they have never gone as far as to say, "We will not let you in at all." But the United States make geographical limitations to the visas.
I have known a number of cases. As I do not want to keep the House for long I will not go into more than one of them, but I will go into one of the cases in order to illustrate the kind of thing which is in my mind. There is a gentleman called Mr. Michael Scott. He is the accredited representative or delegate to a United Nations Specialised Agency of a number of African tribes. He happens to be a man who has devoted a large part of a lifetime to the protection of the equal human rights of coloured people, and I am sure that there is nobody in this House who will have anything but the highest admiration for his efforts in that direction, whether he holds with the particular thing which he does or whether he does not. No one will say that there was anything to be censured in his having these ideals and pursuing them with the utmost devotion and integrity.
But this business of human rights of coloured people can be a peculiar thing. There is a lot of trouble in countries inhabited by coloured people. A lot of undesirable politicians make a lot of political capital out of it—Communists and other people. If they have a large coloured population of their own, it is a very delicate situation. But if this particular Agency were holding its meetings in London, and if Mr. Michael Scott were a citizen of the United States representing those people in London, he would have, and rightly have, under our arrangements complete freedom to come here and carry out his job to the best of his ability, without any kind of interference from the Government of this country.
Not so in the United States. This is where the question of reciprocity comes in. He was not refused a visa; he was granted a visa, but it was a limited visa. He could go to the actual place where the United Nations Specialised Agency was holding meetings—I am not putting an hypothetical case but an actual case—and he could walk around the streets immediately surrounding the building in New York. He could not go anywhere else in New York or anywhere else in the United States. If he crossed this kind of unilateral frontier he could be immediately arrested and deported as being an alien in the United States without permission. What is the purpose of a restriction of this kind, I cannot imagine, because, as I say, it is a unilateral frontier, and although he cannot cross it in order to talk to American citizens, American citizens can cross it in order to talk to him; so what is gained by the restriction I just do not quite follow.
What is lost by it is obvious. But again I do not find it any part of my purpose tonight to complain of it. It is not what we are discussing now and, in any case, it is not anything for which the hon. Gentleman has any responsibility. What he has responsibility for is the Order which he is asking us to make tonight. He has complete authority for that, and following the points so lucidly put by the hon. Member for Darwen, who preceded me in the discussion, I would say that if we are to have reciprocity, let us have reciprocity.
If the United States Government take what I might call, I hope not too disrespectfully, the hillbilly or fundamentalist approach to human affairs, which is not the one most likely to lead to good human relations, we can go on with these Orders, knowing that other people will do the same and the interests of human progress will be thereby served.
But, in the present situation, is it right that we should be asked to give a complete, unfettered, unlimited diplomatic immunity to every United States citizen who comes here to discharge any of the functions covered by any one of these nine Orders, knowing that our own citizens charged with the same obligation and duty are prevented from doing it in the United States?
I hope that the Solicitor-General will not think I am making an insubstantial point. It is not as though it had happened only in this one case. It has happened in a large number of cases, some of which I know personally, and it is applied, logically enough, by the United States Government to one-half of the world: that half which happens to have Communist régimes.
It is not for us tonight to discuss the merits or demerits of Communist régimes, foreign policy, international relations, peaceful co-existence or any of these very important matters, but if one country which is a party to all these agreements refuses to grant to nearly half the countries involved in these mutual and reciprocal arrangements the privileges which it demands for its own citizens in the like case, we have a situation which this House ought to consider when it is asked, as it is being asked tonight, to give diplomatic immunities on a wide scale.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) went through some of the Orders and showed how very wide the immunities—at any rate, in some cases—and how remote they were from the performance of the diplomatic or quasi-diplomatic function that was attached to the person who was protected. If he has to drive from his hotel to St. James's Palace, why should he not be insured on the way in case he knocks somebody down? Why should he not have a driving licence and prove his competence to drive? How would it limit his discharge of his diplomatic functions if he were called upon to produce a third party insurance certificate when he was outside St. James's Palace?
These Orders go very far and very wide; and, as I explained at the beginning, as far as I am concerned I do not mind. I quite see that if we do it at all we might just as well do it in the broadest and most generous spirit; but if we are doing it in the broadest and most generous spirit, at least we should see before we put it into operation that our partners in the international enterprise are regarding these matters as broadly and generously as we are.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), I agree with the spirit and purpose underlying the Orders but, like the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) and my hon. Friend, I feel that one of the questions we have to ask tonight is whether it is really worth while to pass these Orders in the light of the recent experience we have had on this subject.
I am not qualified in any way to speak on the legal technicalities as to whether certain details of the Orders are necessary or desirable, but I speak tonight because I have had correspondence on this matter of diplomatic immunities with the new Minister of State. The result of that correspondence was to me highly unsatisfactory and it impels me to ask whether the Government really believe in the philosophy underlying these Orders.
As I understand it, that philosophy is that the servants of the organisations in question are international civil servants and ought to have a loyalty first and last to the international organisation which they serve, and that, because of that special status, they should be put above the law of the national States in which they may happen to be and be given certain immunities and privileges which others are not given. Far more important than tax exemption, or exemption from being prosecuted for driving offences, is that these international civil servants should be immune from certain pressures from certain Governments.
If we believe in the philosophy which I understand lies behind these Orders, the most important thing from which these persons should be immune is pressure from certain national Governments which happen to belong to the international organisations of which those persons are servants. They should be immune from petty political persecution and from any judicial processes connected therewith.
What is our experience in this field and of the policy of Her Majesty's Government that leads me to ask the question whether the Government really believe in the necessity and desirability of this form of immunity for international civil servants? When any important questions or cases have arisen in the United Nations, for example, our experience is that these immunities have been waived, and that the international civil servants have been subjected to pressure and to judicial processes, persecution and heresyhunting on the part of certain Governments.
What I am trying to discover, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is the purpose which lies behind these Orders, and whether we really believe in this purpose and are prepared to stand up for it. It is not worth while passing these Orders granting these diplomatic immunities if we do not believe in the purpose lying behind them and are not prepared fully to implement the Orders.
When faced with so many Orders, with the various complexities involved, I should have thought that I was entitled to discuss the general principles upon which the legislation which we are asked to approve is based, and how it is to be applied in other fields.
I do not want to go beyond the Orders which we are now discussing, but I should have thought that it was relevant to ask what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the subject of diplomatic immunities generally for international civil servants, and how that policy is being applied today, for example, in the United Nations organisation, to the Specialised Agencies to which some of these Orders relate. Is it worth granting these very wide immunities, which are subject to the kind of criticisms brought forward by my right hon. and learned Friend if, when such criticisms are made, we do not intend to apply these immunities and protect these international civil servants from these processes?
I was merely pointing out that in many important cases which have occurred in the United Nations organisation the experience is that when these criticisms are raised, or sanctions are applied by member Governments, the immunities are waived and they are not sufficient protection, and that therefore there is no reciprocity by other Governments. Certainly, other Governments are not applying the principles on which these Orders are based. Today that is a proven fact. One has only to look at what has been happening in U.N.O. to see that this is the fact. The question arises, do the Government of this country believe in it, because, if they do, why have they not raised a loud protest in U.N.O. against the waiving of the immunities of the servants of U.N.O. who have been subject to attack by certain Governments?
Therefore, I strongly question whether Her Majesty's Government really believe what is said in these Orders. Furthermore. I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends that other Governments do not seem to believe in the general philosophy that lies behind them; at any rate, they have not been applied in many international organisations in recent years. Therefore, we ought to be very careful in not approving a series of Orders which suggest that the Government of this country and this House are prepared to do a number of things in this field which in actual fact will not be done either here or in other countries. From that point of view, these Orders should be subjected to a thorough scrutiny.
I hope the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the matter of his speech, because I do not want to inflict on the House more than one speech dealing with the matters with which I have to deal. I was proposing to leave to my hon. Friend everything except one point, the problem relating to the question, aye or no, are two of these Orders outside the powers given by the statute under which they purport to be made? Some word about that seems to be a necessary obligation, both in courtesy to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) and, indeed, to the Select Committee who expressed the view that they were.
It is a strange feature that there exists a model of an Order just the same in operation in this respect as the two now questioned. I confess I have not had time to inquire into the matter, but I suspect that at some stage it must have passed the Select Committee who passed these Orders without protest and, indeed, was considered both by this place and another place without any protest about its legality being raised.
I would respectfully advise the House that the theory that the two Orders in question are ultra vires this statute does not really bear close examination. The two Orders with which we are concerned in this respect are those relating to the Customs Co-operation Council and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and the matter which arises is that in each case they purport to grant, by retrospective operation, an exemption from taxation going back to a past date, in each case the date of entry into force of the particular convention or the date of signature of the particular agreement.
The matter turns on the true interpretation to be given to the statute, the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950. If hon. and right hon. Members have this statute and would look at the first Section, they will see that, on the face of it, it is clear what the Act is meant to do.
The object of the legislative exercise in the context—if one may use that phrase —is to allow the conferring by Order in Council of immunities, privileges and capacities to certain international organisations. My submission to the House would be that it is quite clear by necessary implication that there must be power to make an Order in Council under this Section having retrospective effect.
I would put it in this way. By Section 1 (1) it is made clear that the Section is only to apply to
…any organisation declared by Order in Council to be an organisation of which the
United Kingdom or His Majesty's Government therein and one or more foreign sovereign Powers or the Government or Governments thereof are members.
It follows, therefor, that membership of the international organisation is a condition precedent to the making of any Order under the statute.
It is perhaps helpful to think of this—that there are international agreements to which Governments have become parties, and an instance that occurs is the Charter of the United Nations, where one could not become a member, if one were a Government, save on the terms that one was prepared to grant the immunity and privileges the granting of which constitutes part of the constitution of that body. Therefore, under the construction that appears to appeal to the Select Committee as the right one, one has the extraordinary position that the Government under this Statute could not confer immunities and privileges unless they were a member of the organisation, and could not become a member of the organisation until they had conferred the immunities and privileges. I am at a loss to think of the right analogy to that situation, but I am reminded of the gentleman who, when asked whether he was guilty or not guilty, replied, "How can I tell until I have heard the evidence?" I submit to the House, with respect, that that really cannot be a very reasonable interpretation to put upon this statute.
It goes a little further. Over a period of many years it has been the practice, where there is a subsidiary obligation in relation to an international agreement, for the agreement to be ratified in advance of the creation of the Order which gives power to enforce the subsidiary obligation. Any other way would be inconvenient and would mean that Her Majesty's Government could not enter into quite an important agreement until they had all the legislation necessary to meet the subsidiary obligation. One ought not to adopt a construction of a statute which would have that result.
I have no desire to be controversial, but when listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and, indeed, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, I could not help thinking, with respect, that in a sense what they were doing was to disregard the power under which we operate this statute. It is expressly provided in the proviso to Section I that, in effect, one cannot by Order in Council under this statute give any more immunities or privileges than are required—and "required" is the word—to be conferred on the person in order to give effect to any international agreement. That is the supreme limitation of what one can do.
I submit to the House that that means that the measure, the yardstick of what one may or may not do under this legislation, by the terms of the legislation, is what the international agreement requires to be done. One thing which is quite certain is that we could not fulfil our international contractual obligation under either of these international agreements save by virtue of an Order in Council made in the form which conferred this exemption retrospectively. There is no other way that I can see in which we can confer the exemption which we contracted to apply as from an antecedent date.
The operative word is "required." I am merely expressing a view as to the law. The word "required" is a perfectly well-known term of art designed to indicate, as I understand it, what is requisite for a given purpose. Speaking in my very new office, I should not like to defend the conferring of some immunity or privilege generously—to use the word which the hon. Member was using at some stage—because what is "requisite" and generosity do not seem to be wholly sympathetic.
One of these Orders provides complete freedom from our road traffic legislation to members of an international postal union. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is right that must be ultra vires. If it is not ultra vires the hon. Member for Darwen and I are right in saying that the word "required" is wide enough to cover both a strict, narrow, rigid interpretation of what is strictly necessary and a wider view of what might be desirable to fulfil the requirement.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for further illustrating the point he made. The words are:
required to be conferred on that person in order to give effect to any international agreement in that behalf.
I do not want to weary the House by raising what are the particular elements in the international agreement with which we are concerned which require the provision to which the right hon. and learned Member was drawing attention. That is a matter which I prefer to leave to my hon. Friend so as not to weary the House with two speeches on one point.
To sum up what I have said, I would wish the House to take the view that when we have considered the purpose of this legislation, the conclusion is inevitable that by necessary implication the true and reasonable construction of this Statute is one which confers the power to make Orders retrospective in the fashion in which these two are.
I wish to intervene briefly in a debate to which I consider the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was a very valuable and challenging one to some of us who feel inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who spoke of the necessity of not offering more in this provision than we obtain from other countries which ought to be equal with us in offering similar provisions to our nationals there.
I agree that that is a view very often expressed in the community. I have heard it recently when the question arose in my constituency as a result of an accident suffered by a constituent from a car carrying the corps diplomatique exemption plate and who, because of that fact, was not able to secure the sort of advantages and expectations that would have accrued had that corps diplomatique plate not been on the car.
I agree that we are not altogether free to fling away our constituents' rights now that we are discussing the wholesale extensions of privileges concerning motor cars, taxes, and so on, to a very largely increased section of the visitors to these shores. Many of my constituents, if they knew that I had readily thrown those rights away, would certainly want to know from me something more about it.
All the same I would say, in reply to the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, that if we are to give privileges to diplomats and international civil servants to carry on their work well, we are bound to give them free from the sort of inhibitions which they would feel if compelled in every sense to obey all the rules in all the details that are imposed, and rightly imposed, on the citizens of our own nation.
For that reason, I think it is good business in this matter, as in many other matters concerning international questions, to proceed in the mood to which my hon. Friend referred and to heap coals of fire on the heads of opponents rather than wait until they give the same privileges which we feel bound to offer to them under international agreements. If we are always going to wait until the other fellow does the right thing before we do so, there will be a long time-lag in the world before we make much progress towards the better international community about which we are always talking in this House.
While I am taking that—as some may think—rather airy view of our responsibility, yet I do take that view, but feel it right to say at the same time that the Americans should not continue the sort of policy that they are pursuing if they expect us, on an occasion like this, to do the things which we shall do in agreeing to these Orders. I hope that some account will be taken on the other side when the further treatment of the Rev. Michael Scott, which has been referred to at length tonight, is being considered. I hope that some account will be taken of the British way of doing things in the hope that perhaps some better attitude may be induced there as well.
This is a very important matter, and I beg the Government to take these Orders back and consider them afresh from the point of view of our history and of how they will affect our citizens in different parts of the world who find themselves temporarily in countries which are not within the purview of the British Empire. I beg the Government to look at this matter again. It is not just one principle which is involved in the Orders; about four, five or six are involved in relation to personal liberty.
I know that almost every view which the Government hold is opposed to mine, but I ask them, as a humble Member of the House, on an occasion like this, when we are concerned with problems which touch almost every human liberty which we know in the modern world, to take these Orders back and ask their legal advisers to consider them again from the national, international and colonial points of view. I ask them to consider whether it is worth while introducing such Orders in circumstances in which we cannot give valid reasons for our actions.
This is a matter on which I feel strongly although I have not had time to prepare my remarks. Every citizen who loves his British citizenship and his freedom, everyone who is connected with the Empire or Commonwealth, may find himself affected by legislation of this kind. I ask that these Orders be taken back and reconsidered from the wider humanitarian point of view; from the point of view of men seeking freedom who may find that legislation of this kind, if passed, may be used against them.
With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to some of the points which have been made, and especially those put by the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice). I am most grateful to those hon. Members who accorded me a welcome in my new office. During the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), I thought that for the first time in the last 19 years he was beginning to appreciate some of my remarks and was agreeing with them. I thought that perhaps he was mellowing and would be in future prepared to agree more with my views.
I have been asked a number of questions which I will try to take seriatum, with one exception, which I will deal with at the end. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked first how many persons in this country will come under these Orders. I consider that very important. The House will recall that, with the excep- tion of the International Sugar Council, the headquarters of the organisations are not at present in this country. So long as those headquarters are not in this country, and the meetings are not in this country, it is impossible to say the number of those affected. It will be limited to those representatives from other countries travelling through this country in order to go to a meeting.
There are three cases where I can give figures. The first is the International Sugar Council where the headquarters are in London. In that case there are two persons not being citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who will receive the tax exemption. In the case of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation there are 114 persons of various nationalities, including 52 citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, who will receive immunities and privileges, but only 36 of their number, of whom 30 are citizens of the United Kingdom, are expected to receive tax exemption. I think the figure of 200 quoted in the Report of the Public Accounts Committee dealt with the number of claims and not with the number of persons. In respect of the Customs Cooperation Council there are two persons, both United Kingdom citizens, who will receive tax exemption by virtue of the retroactive Clause. That is the full information that I can give on the numbers affected.
I should like to deal with a point, put by my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) and many others, about reciprocity. I do not intend to deal with every Order, but what has happened in all of them is that a considerable number of countries have already ratified and acceded. In some cases there are still other countries to accede, but we are not, to use the phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen, "blazing a trail." We are coming into the agreements after other countries in all cases. I rather wish that we had blazed a trail rather more quickly.
I will give two examples. In the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation there are 14 member States, eight of which have ratified. If the House approves the Order, we will be the ninth. To take the most recent example of the International Sugar Council, there are 26 Member States and 22 have ratified. That is a fair indication. I expect that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like me to mention the Universal Postal Union. Seventeen have so far ratified, although there are some 83 Member States. That is the broad picture on reciprocity.
I come to the third and, I think, the main point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made on the Universal Postal Union Order. He asked why it was that, when this Order was introduced in June, 1950, and withdrawn, we now wanted to go ahead with it. I am in a little difficulty. I do not want to go in detail into the proceedings of another place. It was of course in a preceding Session. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that Lord Jowitt, then Lord Chancellor, withdrew the Order in order to give time to reconsider the whole position. He apologised for the fact that he had not had time to study the position.
Since that time in 1950 we have studied the position and we have given the advice —the advice I gave today—that, in the view of the Government, it would be wrong to exclude the Universal Postal Union and the other two organisations from the benefits of the Convention signed in 1947. The House will recall that in that Convention there were some 10 Specialised Agencies to which we undertook to give these immunities. In the case of seven they have already been given. It is wrong that these three should now be denied them.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the words had a wide application. The words in the Order are:
Immunity from legal process of every kind in respect of words spoken or written and things done or omitted to be done by them in their capacity as representatives.
The reason for that is that those very words, or words of very similar character, occur in the International Convention, of which Section 19 of Article 6 says:
Officials of specialised agencies shall… be immune from legal process in respect of words spoken or written and all acts performed by them in their official capacity.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look at the Act under which these Orders are framed, he will see in paragraph 10 of the Schedule that the immunity which we shall give is:
Immunity from suit and legal process in respect of things done or omitted to be done in the course of the performance of official duties.
Therefore, we are here acting as we are required to do if we accede to the Convention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darwen asked why I said we were obliged to ratify. He rather accused me of putting that forward. He explained at the beginning of his speech that he had not been present during the whole of my speech. That was probably the reason why he made his allegation.
I was submitting the reasons why I thought the House should ratify the agreement; in the case of the three Specialised Agencies Orders, I pointed out that we had signed the Convention and I thought it only right that we should ask the House to ratify because we were committed by the Convention signed in 1947. If my hon. Friend refers to my speech in HANSARD, he will see that I have not over-stated the case. I was giving reasons, which coincided very largely with those given by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, why I thought it was in the national and international interest that these Orders should be agreed.
The final and most important point is that I was asked by the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether I could, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, give an assurance that I was personally satisfied, and that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General was personally satisfied, that the privileges which are conferred by these Orders do not go beyond the obligations assumed in the agreement. I can tell him that since I was appointed to this Office I have spent most of my time ascertaining whether the agreement has been scrupulously observed, and I give the House the assurance that in my view it has been most scrupulously observed.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman upon obtaining his present office. I can only hope that he will have a rather better case to defend as a rule when he appears at the Dispatch Box than the one which he has had this evening. Even the intervention of the Solicitor-General did not quite convince me on the point whether two of the Orders were ultra vires or not. However, even if we confirm these Orders tonight, if they are ultra vires they will remain ultra vires and the court may so decide.
I could not help thinking that the hon. and learned Gentleman's jest about the dilemma and the solution to it which he proposed was hardly in accordance with his own professional experience. Has he never had to defend a man to whom he has said "Plead not guilty at this stage," and then at a later stage has said to him, "In view of what we have heard, I advise you to plead guilty now"? That is what has happened on several occasions in cases which I have heard, although I have never had the hon. and learned Gentleman as a barrister in front of me.
It is a pity that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not caution himself before he started. In these matters, we do get some very strange metaphors. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) always amazes me. When one intends to treat someone kindly, why one should say that one should heap coals of fire upon his head I cannot understand. I recall the story of the wife who approached her minister and described her domestic difficulties to him. He told her, "I should heap coals of fire upon his head," whereupon the woman replied "I have never tried that, but I did once try a kettle of boiling water."
I want to ask the hon. Gentleman whether we are to understand that the members of the present Government, who attacked the Labour Government in the House of Lords over this Universal Postal Union Order, now retract from the position they then took up, because they were most emphatic. Let me read what Viscount Swinton said on 24th July, 1950:
Having listened to this debate, and having read the Order, I am bound to say that I echo what my noble and learned Friend has said.
The noble Lord was referring to the late Viscount Simon. He went on:
I was not a Minister for so long as he was, but I have been a Minister, on and off —and more often on than off—for the last thirty years, and it never occurred to me, when going all over the world to attend diplomatic conferences (and I have attended as many as most people) that I ought to have diplomatic privilege. I have never had it in my life. I have had great courtesy, and the convenience of an official motor car; but it
never occurred to me, when I was in Rapallo, that if I drove my girl friend round the coast road"—
I really would like to see the noble Lord driving his girl friend round the coast road, and I would like to see the girl friend, too—
—and ran over some respectable Italian citizen, I could expect to enjoy diplomatic immunity.
The late Lord Simon here interrupted to say:
You must be travelling to or from the conference.
Viscount Swinton replied:
Certainly. There are many roads; and one may take the high road or the low road, and take any companion.
In view of the kind of language used in those days, and of the remarks made by Lord Simon when he pointed out that one must be travelling to or from the conference, and in view of the fact that somebody coming from a conference in Switzerland can land at Dover and drive across the country to Liverpool and, during the whole of that time, can enjoy diplomatic immunity, do we now understand that all the objections then raised are now waived?
May I take this further point, which was made by Lord Simon? He said:
Indeed, if we turn to the next page, we see that under Section C, 'High Officials of the Union,'—the Director or his deputy and the like—this immunity would apply not only to the high official but to his wife, if she were driving the car, or his son under twenty-one if he were driving. Not only so, they would not even be exposed to a claim for damages for injuries which they had caused." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 24th July, 1950; Vol. 168, c. 558–563.]
Was that genuine, or was it just an ebullition of party feeling intended to embarrass the Government of the day? I hope the House will agree to the Order tonight, and that we may assume that the members of Her Majesty's Government who adopted that line in the House of Lords now sincerely repent for attacking this immunity for so long.