My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to introduce the International Organisations Bill to this House. It is a small but important technical Bill designed to ensure the effective functioning of international organisations and bodies. These measures are required to enable Her Majesty's Government to meet outstanding international commitments to confer legal capacity and privileges and immunities on a number of international organisations and bodies and certain categories of individuals connected to them.
Let me explain more fully the effect of the Bill. Clauses 1 to 3 concern the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal—the CSAT. As many of your Lordships will know, the secretariat is the primary inter-governmental organisation of the Commonwealth. It facilitates consultations and co-operation between Commonwealth members and provides policy advice and technical assistance aimed at promoting the well-being and development of member countries. The CSAT is an internal arbitral body established in 1995 by the Commonwealth Secretariat to resolve contractual disputes between the secretariat on the one hand and its staff or any other person who enters into a written contract with the secretariat on the other.
The Bill will change three aspects of the privileges and immunities currently enjoyed by the Commonwealth Secretariat under the Commonwealth Secretariat Act 1966, which implements the 1965 agreed memorandum establishing the secretariat. They are as follows. First, at the moment, the secretariat has immunity from the jurisdiction of the courts in the United Kingdom subject to three specified exceptions: cases in which the immunity is waived by the Secretary-General; cases concerning motor accidents or motor traffic offences; and when arbitration proceedings are taken in respect of a written contract with the secretariat.
The last exception, concerning arbitration proceedings, has been interpreted by the courts in the UK as allowing the courts to exercise supervisory jurisdiction over CSAT arbitration proceedings under the Arbitration Act 1996. That particular exception to immunity will be removed by Clause 1 of the Bill, which will bring the secretariat's immunity provisions into line with those enjoyed by many other international organisations based in the UK. The new extended immunity will not apply to written contracts entered into by, or on behalf of, the secretariat before Clause 1 enters into force. For those contracts, courts will continue to have supervisory jurisdiction under the Arbitration Act 1996.
I turn now to the second way in which the privileges and immunities of the Commonwealth Secretariat staff will change. Clause 2 of the Bill will accord the president and members of CSAT the same immunity from legal process in relation to their official acts that is conferred on the Commonwealth Secretariat staff under the Commonwealth Secretariat Act 1966. The Bill provides that, if the CSAT is replaced by an equivalent successor body, an order may be made by the Secretary of State to amend the Commonwealth Secretariat Act 1966 for the purposes of conferring privileges and immunities on the successor body equivalent to those enjoyed by CSAT.
The third provision affecting the Commonwealth Secretariat is in Clause 3 of the Bill, which confers exemption from UK income tax on all staff of the secretariat in respect of salaries and emoluments that they receive as staff of the secretariat. This new exemption will not apply to pensions, annuities payments, or to income received by staff from other sources. The exemption is conditional on the secretariat establishing an internal tax system for its own benefit, as is currently the case with a number of other international organisations. That deals with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the CSAT.
I turn now to Clause 4, which deals with the OSCE. With 55 participating states, the OSCE is the world's broadest-based international security body. It is active in conflict prevention, crisis management, human rights, democracy issues and post-conflict rehabilitation. The UK is a founder member of the OSCE and we work closely with it in all areas. The Bill will bring the OSCE within the scope of the International Organisations Act 1968 and thus enable the United Kingdom to implement the political commitments that it made when it endorsed the 1993 Rome Council decision to confer on the OSCE domestic legal capacity and privileges and immunities. That will confirm our support for the work of the OSCE.
Clause 5 deals with EU bodies established under Title V—that is, "Provisions on a Common Foreign and Security Policy", or CFSP; or Title VI, which is "Provisions on Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters", or PJCC, of the Treaty on European Union.
The Bill will add a further section to the International Organisations Act 1968 to enable the UK to confer legal capacity and privileges and immunities, by Order in Council, on bodies established under Title V or Title VI of the Treaty on European Union and certain categories of individuals connected with those bodies. Bodies established under Title V and some of the bodies established under Title VI of the Treaty on European Union are not covered by the European Communities Act 1972 or by its subsequent amendments.
Examples of such bodies established under TEU include: ATHENA, the EU Satellite Centre and the Institute for Security Studies. ATHENA is a financing mechanism set up to enable member states to contribute towards the financing of EU military peacekeeping missions, as the EU budget cannot be used for military operations. The Satellite Centre provides valuable satellite imagery analysis which helps the EU monitor crises across the world, and the ISS adds academic analysis and strategic thinking to the development of common foreign and security policy. The Government believe that the bodies established so far are important for the successful development of the ESDP. Under existing obligations, the UK is committed to conferring privileges and immunities on these bodies and certain categories of individuals connected to them.
Clause 6 relates to the International Criminal Court, which is a permanent court established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The ICC is situated in the Hague. The purpose of the ICC is to try individuals for some of the most serious crimes known to mankind: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. There have long been aspirations for the creation of such a court. These were given added impetus with the foundation of the United Nations 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 responsibility to prosecute such crimes. The ICC will take over investigating and prosecuting such a crime only when the states with jurisdiction are unable or unwilling genuinely to do so.
The court is now taking its first operational steps. It has opened up two investigations into northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The court will have to operate in some of the world's most difficult environments, so safety is paramount. In order to ensure its staff can work effectively, they need to be granted the added security provided by the ICC Privileges and Immunities Agreement, which the United Kingdom signed in 2002. The Bill will amend the International Criminal Court Act 2001 to allow the UK to confer all the privileges and immunities necessary to fulfil its obligations under the ICC Privileges and Immunities Agreement.
I now turn to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, during the debate on the International Criminal Court (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2004 on
"Under existing legislation the UK is unable to confer privileges and immunities on these organisations" when the above-mentioned ICC order was doing exactly that.
Under the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Criminal Court of 2002, which the UK has signed, the United Kingdom is obliged to confer privileges and immunities on the court itself and on two groups of persons related to the court. The first group consists of the most senior court staff, counsel, experts, victims, witnesses and other persons involved in proceedings at the court. The necessary privileges and immunities were conferred on this group by means of the ICC Order in Council. This was the order debated in this House last week. The legal basis for the Order in Council is the ICC Act 2001.
However, the ICC Act, as it currently stands, does not allow us to confer the obligatory privileges and immunities on the second group of people, which consists of family members of the most senior court staff and states' representatives at the Assembly and other meetings and representatives of intergovernmental organisations. We therefore need to amend the Act to give us the additional power needed to confer privileges and immunities on this second group of individuals. Clause 6 of the Bill presently under discussion will secure the necessary amendment and allow the UK to fulfil its legal obligations under the ICC Privileges and Immunities Agreement. This will be done by means of a separate Order in Council once the International Organisations Bill enters into force.
We were not able to wait for the ICC Act 2001 to be amended so that both groups of people could be covered by one Order in Council because we could not be certain of securing parliamentary time for the International Organisations Bill.
As regards the question of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about the Explanatory Notes to the International Organisations Bill, in light of what I have just said, the statement in the summary of the Explanatory Notes is certainly not incorrect. However, I concede that it might have been better expressed as,
"under existing legislation the UK is unable to confer all the necessary—
I stress the words "all the necessary"—
"privileges and immunities on these organisations".
I hope that the explanation in paragraph 8 of the Explanatory Notes is thereby clarified.
Finally, it was not possible to ensure that the ICC Act 2001 covered both groups of people because the Act was passed in May 2001 and the ICC Privileges and Immunities Agreement was not finalised until September 2002.
Clause 7 applies to the European Court of Human Rights. The court forms part of the Council of Europe. It enforces the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, more commonly known as the European Convention on Human Rights. The court examines cases brought by any member state or any individual claiming to be a victim of a breach of the convention.
The Sixth Protocol to the General Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe confers privileges and immunities on members of the court. The United Kingdom has signed and ratified the Sixth Protocol subject to a reservation in respect of Article 1, so far as it requires the conferral of privileges and immunities on family members of judges. The Bill will amend the International Organisations Act 1968 and this will allow the United Kingdom to implement Article 1 of the Sixth Protocol fully and withdraw our reservation.
Clause 8 concerns the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). ITLOS is an international court based in Hamburg. It was established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United Kingdom is a state party to the convention. The Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea provides that the tribunal and various categories of individuals connected with it shall enjoy privileges and immunities. The United Kingdom has signed this agreement but has not yet ratified it because it is not possible to implement the provisions relating to the tribunal itself using existing legislation. The Bill will bring ITLOS within the scope of the International Organisations Act 1968 and enable the UK to confer privileges and immunities on the tribunal. This will allow the UK to ratify the ITLOS agreement.
I know that noble Lords will be concerned about the cost of all this. In practice, the financial implications of the Bill are minimal. The only loss of revenue that might occur would be by way of refunds of VAT on travel and incidental costs for visiting officials. We are mostly talking about visiting officials with regard to these international organisations. The only ones of any real numbers are those of the Commonwealth Secretariat. We estimate that this sum would be under £1,000 per annum. The Bill will not impose any additional regulation on the business, charities or voluntary sectors, and so will have no impact domestically.
By enabling us to confer privileges and immunities on them, this Bill will confirm our support for the work of these organisations and will be a clear demonstration that the United Kingdom is meeting its international commitments. I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)
My Lords, having listened to the Minister, the International Organisations Bill is clearly worthy of broad support. It is important that the United Kingdom is able to meet its international commitments in relation to international organisations and bodies.
The world is becoming a smaller place, and our national laws and responsibilities now often have an impact on the international community. If, therefore, we are not to alienate international activities, we must take account of the measures within our domestic law. That is precisely what we are attempting to do today. I commend the Minister on that objective.
This is an interesting and useful Bill for another reason. Its Long Title particularly interests me, for it makes,
"provision about privileges, immunities and facilities in connection with certain international organisations".
The issue of how to treat certain international sports federations has been particularly prominent in recent times. It is on that point that I wish to concentrate today. I must admit that on my first reading of the Bill I was rather heartened because I thought that in Clause 6 the ICC accurately reflected exactly what it should have stood for—the International Cricket Council. However, I hope that there will be opportunity in Committee to amend the Bill accordingly because today I shall refer to the ongoing saga of the International Cricket Council, the members of which, I deeply regret to say, are apparently beginning to pack their suitcases as they prepare to leave Lords and head abroad. They do not want to leave Lords—it is their home and the spiritual home of cricket itself. Nor do they want to leave England for, after India, England is the world's biggest market for cricket.
However, the ICC feels that it is being forced out by the Government and in particular by the Chancellor's swingeing system of corporation tax, which currently requires the ICC to pay full tax in England for every penny it has earned around the world. Bearing in mind that the ICC exists primarily to promote the sport of cricket around the world, it appears to the world of sport to be unreasonable to penalise it in this way.
We are led to believe that UK Sport has intervened in the situation and has proposed a new tax regime for the ICC—a regime which might offer certain specific exemptions for international sporting federations. This proposal had been approved by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but was effectively ruled out of consideration by the Treasury team in another place an hour ago in Treasury Questions.
Today, I call on the Chancellor and the Government to think again, and to take urgent and decisive action. The Government must do whatever they can to keep the International Cricket Council where it belongs and where it wants to be. This is very important indeed. In recent times, the International Rugby Board has decamped to Dublin; the International Amateur Athletics Federation has gone to Monaco; the Table Tennis Federation has gone to Switzerland; and the International Badminton Federation is in the process of relocating to Kuala Lumpur. This is a terrible state of affairs, not only for the loss of business and the loss of prestige associated with international sporting federations, but because of what it says about the United Kingdom as a sporting nation.
This country's level of influence on the world stage of sport is pitifully low. As a nation we are under-represented on the committees and the boards of too many major sports. Our use of sport as a tool of international development is minimal, and our record of bidding for and staging international events is frankly unacceptable. As things stand, the ICC is one of the jewels in the UK's sporting crown. The Government should be drawing the ICC closer to them; championing it and by association championing this country as an international hub of sporting activity and excellence. Instead, they appear bent on driving it away with their blind refusal to compromise. This Bill provides your Lordships with the opportunity to reverse this trend.
The consequences will go still wider. Consider, if you will, how the ICC's departure from Lord's would play out among the 123 members of the International Olympic Committee who are charged with deciding whether London should host the Olympic Games in 2012. Consider also that in its initial report on candidate cities the IOC criticised London for its lack of experience of staging international events and for a perceived lack of government support for the bid.
I should not think that the sight of a blue riband international federation being unceremoniously shoved off to the Far East would do much to enhance London's chances. In fact, I fear that this display of obstinacy from government could go some way towards undermining all the outstanding work being done by the 2012 bid committee led by my noble friend Lord Coe, work which has our absolute, unstinting and full support. The Government have been using the Olympic bid like the sword of Damocles, telling politicians and journalists alike that if they speak or act out of turn they will threaten the bid's success. Yet, it is the ministerial team responsible for sport that has constantly failed to deliver.
My Lords, will the noble Lord reflect on whether he is in order and within the norms of this House? He is discussing sporting organisations, whereas the Bill deals with international organisations.
My Lords, I am grateful for the intervention, but as the noble Lord will have heard in my opening remarks, I am absolutely within the order of this Bill because it deals, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, with "certain international organisations". All my remarks are focused on international organisations of sport that are based in the United Kingdom. They come within the definition of certain international organisations. In Committee, I shall seek to amend this Bill in line with the 1968 Act, which I have reviewed in detail, to ensure that "certain international organisations" also caters for the important international governing bodies of sport; not the national governing bodies, but the international governing bodies of sport.
That is why I am focusing exclusively this afternoon on the International Cricket Council. I am grateful to the noble Lord to allowing me to clarify that point, because clearly I have looked in detail as to whether it would be in order for me to come forward with amendments to this Bill. I have taken counsel to that effect, and I believe that it is wholly proper to widen the bodies that the Minister has rightly drawn to our attention to include international governing bodies of sport and international federations.
Why should international governing bodies of sport be of importance to your Lordships? Why is our international reputation in sport so important? First, in the UK we have been slow to recognise the potential that our sporting traditions, facilities, prowess and experience offer for enhancing our influence overseas. The world of sport is intensely political. Bidding to host international sporting events is a process steeped in politics. In order to win the right to host the Olympic Games, international, or world championship events, strong influence on the international sporting stage, particularly through high-quality representation on international sporting bodies, is essential. Sport offers a multitude of opportunities to enhance our international reputation both at home and abroad. At present, these opportunities are being wasted. Our influence on international sports forums is unacceptably low. From the Prime Minister down, the Government need to recognise the value of our sporting traditions, facilities, prowess, and experience to our overseas influence. After all, that is what this Bill seeks to protect in other forums of the international organisations that are based here. Clause 6 refers to an international organisation based in The Hague.
What is required, in addition to the amendments that I propose to bring forward, includes a government-backed, systematic international events policy. UK Sport has failed in that objective. It has focused too much on how many representatives we have, not on how effective and influential they are. Our most successful and influential representative is my noble friend Lord Coe, whose work on the International Amateur Athletics Federation is outside the career-planning structure of the United Kingdom. We need a new policy aimed at securing international events that will replace the world class events programme to support the bidding and staging costs of major events on home soil and to ensure that international federations are supported to stay in this country. If we provide them with support through this Bill, we will not only ensure that they can stay in this country, but I hope that we will be able to ensure that we bring additional international federations to this land.
We have a duty to enhance our international reputation through sport. This Bill provides us with that opportunity. It is appropriately drawn to allow us to move away from the list of specific organisations in the Bill to include additional international organisations. Accordingly, it is wholly proper that the Government urgently do what is required to keep the International Cricket Council at Lord's. It is wholly proper that the ICC remains in the spiritual home of cricket. The fact that it is about to leave Lord's is a tragedy in itself, but it is also part of a far broader issue. How can the Government claim to support the bid for the 2012 Olympics, and particularly the outstanding work of my noble friend Lord Coe and the 2012 committee, when they turn their back on the International Cricket Council and allow our influence on the world stage, which is what this Bill is about, to dwindle still further? I call on the Government to keep the International Cricket Council at Lord's and to publish a plan demonstrating how they intend to increase our international influence in sport. They can start by amending this Bill in Committee.
My Lords, in broad terms, we are content with several facets of this Bill, but we feel that several other aspects need clarification. When I say "the Bill" I refer to the conventional interpretation of the Bill.
Most of my comments will deal with the Commonwealth Secretariat. As the bulk of my comments will be concerned with provisions relating to the Commonwealth Secretariat, I place on record that I was a member of the paid, full-time staff of the secretariat from 1999 to 2003. During my employment there, I was vice-chairman of the Commonwealth Secretariat Staff Association, CSSA, from 2000 to 2003. The CSSA elects its officers democratically, on the basis of one member one vote, at elections every year. My role on the CSSA was a voluntary and unpaid position undertaken concurrently with my other duties.
On these Benches, we have always supported the concept that our common good is better served by international co-operation and joint endeavour.
We recognise that working with others is better than working alone, that building alliances and entering into agreements based on respect and mutual consent is always better than going it alone and that international co-operation is the best method that we have for achieving peace and prosperity for future generations. Hence our commitment to the good governance and efficient functioning of international organisations.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is somewhat different to other international organisations, as it is unique in the closeness of its association with the United Kingdom. It was established in London, it is headed by our sovereign and is so closely bound up with our past that almost all of its countries, with the exception of Mozambique, have a tradition of government and jurisprudence related to our own and, above all, share a language and history which has been touched by our own. Therefore, we have a special duty to ensure that, whatever changes we make to the governance arrangements of the secretariat, they respect the highest traditions of good governance and employment standards that we believe in for ourselves in the UK.
I fear that the provisions of the Bill will dilute those standards rather than enhance them. I refer in particular to subsections (1), (2) and (3) of Clause 1 and to the provisions of Clause 2. The changes proposed in these clauses might serve to dilute the rights of staff with respect to their access to justice.
In terms of background, I will briefly touch upon the nature of staff arrangements at the secretariat. Its staff, most of whom are based in London, number some 300, of which approximately half are either British nationals, non-British UK residents or dual nationals. They are appointed by the Secretary-General, with the majority on fixed term contracts of three years, which are renewable for a limited period at the discretion of the Secretary-General. Their terms and conditions are set out in rules and regulations which form part of their contract of employment. Should an employment dispute occur between a member of staff and their employer—the Secretary-General—the legal recourse for settlement is the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT), the subject of Clause 2. All members of the tribunal are appointed by the Secretary-General, who is also responsible for their remuneration. There is no independent supervisory control to ensure independence. The method for staff to enforce their rights or seek remedy for a breach of obligations is to make a claim to CSAT, where there is no right to an oral hearing under its procedures and thus no right to question witnesses. There is no right of appeal.
Under the existing interpretation of the Arbitration Act 1996, the English courts have taken the right to entertain applications from parties challenging a decision by an arbitral tribunal in very restricted circumstances on the grounds of lack of independence or bias. English courts have, therefore, in those limited circumstances, been seen as the only recourse for someone seeking to challenge a CSAT decision. We fear that this minimal safeguard of natural law rights would be removed if the Bill were to become law, because blanket immunity would be provided which would leave no scope for any redress beyond that of CSAT. It is questionable whether this situation will be compatible under the European Convention on Human Rights and we expect to question that further in Committee stage.
For the moment, it would be helpful to hear from the Minister of other examples where access to justice is similarly restricted. It would also be illuminating to hear whether, in such cases that might exist, immunities have been further extended to restrict rights since the Human Rights Act came into force. If they have, this could be a diminution of the Government's stated intention to promote a human rights culture, both domestically and beyond.
Our concern with respect to the changes set out in Clause 3 relate to equality in employment. We understand that previous arrangements for taxation discriminated against British nationals and if this anomaly will now be corrected, that is to be welcomed. We shall seek further clarification in Committee. Those are our reservations with respect to the human rights of staff employed by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
In Clause 4, which relates to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, it is peculiar that the OSCE, compared to other international organisations, does not have legal personality. We understand that from its genesis, it started out as a conference but has now evolved to a situation where it has its own staff, secretariat and institutions. It would make sense to give it legal personality, as long as its flexibility, which is its much vaunted strength, continues.
Clause 5 is slightly opaque and it is unclear what the Minister envisages to be the practical application of the clause. Which bodies have been established under the provisions of the Common Foreign and Security Policy or Title VI? Are any new ones envisaged? On the remaining clauses, we understand that these are tidying up exercises and, therefore, we broadly welcome them.
"a small, technical and uncontroversial Bill".
Small and technical it may be, but its impact on the human rights of staff, as envisaged in Clauses 1 and 2, may prove significant. The danger in lowering thresholds is that we jeopardise the principles of universality and indivisibility to which we have long adhered. We hope that that will not be the result of the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, noted the Foreign Office briefing that this was a tidying-up operation, a non-controversial Bill, but I wish to peg on to our examination of the Bill some wider considerations and to argue in the opposite direction to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. If one is considering extending rights and privileges to international organisations, I should have thought that the example of the International Olympic Committee was not a happy one. It is a deeply corrupt body which has been through some reforms, but still—
My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but I never mentioned the International Olympic Committee because it would have been outside the remit of the Bill, as it is not an international federation based in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I accept that, but I wish to argue my doubts about the emergence of a growing class of international officials in Britain, across Europe and elsewhere who are immune from domestic taxation and are beyond the obligations and protections of domestic law.
I must declare an interest. My wife is director of the Robert Schuman Centre—part of the European University Institute, which is an intergovernmental organisation set up under the EURATOM Treaty. I am part of her family. I am classified as a dependent spouse and I must confess that she receives a dependent spouse allowance on my behalf, for which I am deeply grateful. I have mixed views on her immunity from domestic taxation and on the lower rate of notional taxation which she is forced to pay on her salary. I should also declare an interest of the noble Lord, Lord Roper. The Minister mentioned the European Union's Institute for Security Studies, of which the noble Lord was the first director. I have no doubt that he was deeply upset by the manner in which his salary, too, was arranged under similar circumstances.
The justification for extending immunities to families, which is also included in the Bill, again seems to be questionable. There are some wider and longer term issues. After all, those of us on these Benches who are committed to the idea of a strengthened global order and higher global interdependence—which require active management—recognise that we will have a continuing proliferation of intergovernmental agencies to manage them. But that carries with it the danger that two classes of people will be operating—those of us who are subject to domestic law and pay our taxes and parking fines, and an increasing number of people who do not.
For global organisations, such as the International Criminal Court, diplomatic privileges are still necessary. I strongly agree with the Minister that the added security needed by bodies such as that are required in all member states and we cannot ask to be different. However, they are not always recognised in all member states. In late August, I found myself in the middle of a UN convoy in South Ossetia, surrounded by a group of people in Russian uniform but of uncertain provenance who certainly did not seem to regard the UN as having any privileges whatever under those circumstances. Therefore, we need that security for global organisations.
But it seems to me that, within the European Union, we should be putting down a marker about how many further agencies within the EU should have these kinds of rights and immunities. We can all agree that the EU is not a federation, but it is more than an intergovernmental organisation and it extends a great deal further into our ordinary lives. Therefore, we must question how extensive the privileges and immunities of those who work for European agencies should be.
As the Minister will know, I am a strong supporter of the further development of the European Union, but I regard the powers, privileges and status of the Commission and of many of its agencies with mixed feelings. I refer to the salaries of those involved, their access to duty-free sales and the extent to which the Commission and the various agencies are outside the remit of the employment law and regulations which the Commission itself imposes on member states and candidate countries. That is another area where Her Majesty's Government should be pushing further.
There is a real danger of a popular backlash against the emergence of this privileged elite. In this House we hear the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, going on endlessly about the privileged pensions received by former Commissioners. It is easy to imagine the press campaign which could build up as more and more such agencies develop. Indeed, the Minister mentioned some of them.
We now have the European Medicines Agency in London, the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, a food standards agency, which is not yet established, in Parma, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, and, under Titles 5 and 6 of the Treaty on European Union of Maastricht, a number of others which the Minister mentioned and which come under Europol, Eurojust, the new European Defence Agency, the EU Satellite Centre and elsewhere.
ATHENA is also mentioned in the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I have been trying to remember all the other activities or potential agencies that are developing within the second and third pillars. Odysseus is one of them—they almost all have Greek names. One can imagine a world in which new agencies grow up. We have the European Police College in Bramshill, in which the number of people who are, to some extent, outside the domestic law of the member states continues to proliferate a great deal. We may well wish to test that in Committee—in particular, the extension to family members of such rights and privileges.
My noble friend Lady Falkner talked in detail about the Commonwealth Secretariat, and so I shall not refer to that. So far as concerns the OSCE, the Minister will know that some of us have real doubts about its continuing value and, indeed, its uncertain status. There is clearly a case for strengthening its status and for making it a full intergovernmental organisation, but only if it is to be given the potential to play the role of a full intergovernmental organisation. As we saw at the OSCE council meeting last week, the Russian Government, in particular, seemed deeply resistant to the OSCE playing any positive role.
I say nothing about ITLOS beyond that some years ago I was privileged to attend a number of conferences on the reform of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and I remember eating the most superb seafood as I went from conference to conference. So I hope that they start again with a further revision of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Similarly, I query whether the European Court of Human Rights should have all the privileges of the International Criminal Court. The European Court of Human Rights operates in the European region, where its members are much less likely to have problems about their citizenship and their behaviour. The European region does operate under the rule of law, and therefore, here as in other places, we should be moving towards the assumption that, as one moves across the European Union, partly as European citizens, we do not need extra privileges in order to be able to operate.
Therefore, I ask Her Majesty's Government to take a more restrictive approach in general to the extension of diplomatic privileges. I recognise that much in that regard cannot be achieved by the United Kingdom alone but, most importantly, it should be placed firmly on the EU agenda and included in discussions on the reform of the United Nations and its agencies following the high-level panel report on UN reform.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for her detailed introduction to the Bill. This afternoon's short debate has been constructive and informative.
There is no doubt that closer co-operation through international organisations can help all the people involved in working towards meeting the challenges that we face today. We would support "mutual recognition" here rather than straight harmonisation. More importantly, we on these Benches will continue to work to ensure that within these various organisations, particularly the European ones, measures that undermine civil liberties are not extended.
We want to ensure that all the organisations and their members remain accountable for their actions. Therefore, while the Minister described the Bill as a relatively small and technical one, we shall still study all the proposed changes with great care, as she would expect.
I am afraid that today, unlike yesterday, I have many questions to which of course I do not expect an immediate answer. Having looked at the agreements referred to in the Explanatory Notes, I see that the most recent one appears to have been in relation to the International Criminal Court in 2002, as referred to in Clause 6. The noble Baroness stated that the Government are committed to providing these immunities and privileges to the specified organisations, their members, their members' families and their members' households, but that they have not had the mechanism to do so until this Bill. In the light of that, and as it is simply a "technical Bill", my first question is: why have the Government waited so long to bring it forward?
In relation to the immunities and privileges that may be awarded to bodies established under the Treaty on European Union, can the Minister, before the next stage, provide the House with a full list of the bodies to which the Bill will apply? I understand that so far the Library has been unable to find a comprehensive list of these second and third pillar European bodies.
In relation to Clause 5, I want to highlight a point that has been made before by the European Scrutiny Committee. Can the Minister explain the legal basis for conferring the privileges and immunities of the European Communities on EU bodies when the EU itself does not enjoy a legal personality? This issue has been raised by the House of Lords European Union Committee as well as by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee. For example, I understand from the Scrutiny Committee report that the Government wish to make the European Police College a body that will fall into this category. Can the noble Baroness inform the House whether the Government have responded to the specific questions raised by the European Scrutiny Committee and explain the effect that these orders, which were discussed last Thursday, might have on the issue?
Will the noble Baroness also assure the House that the powers provided in this Bill will not allow the Government to act in anticipation of the decision of Parliament on the EU Constitutional Treaty and any bodies that will flow from that?
Throughout the Bill, immunities and privileges are granted not only to the people concerned but also to various family members and members of their households. Will the Minister inform the House why that does not include civil partners, as recently enacted? We will also be looking to ensure that these immunities and privileges are limited to those recommended in the agreements; for example, with regard to the International Criminal Court, they will have privileges only in regard to customs and quick repatriation in times of crisis. I hope there is no possibility of British taxpayers subsidising shopping trips for members of these organisations and their spouses. Will the noble Baroness give a categorical assurance to Parliament that that cannot, and will not, happen under this Bill?
Clause 4 of the Bill deals with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which I understand includes among its members some states such as Belarus, whose record on human rights leaves much to be desired. Does the noble Baroness agree that we must be careful about giving immunities and privileges to the ruling elite of such countries, notwithstanding the signal that that gives out to those struggling, even as we speak, against anti-democratic regimes?
In the light of Article 1 of the Sixth Protocol, I understand we signed a reservation when we agreed the ECHR overall. Can the noble Baroness confirm that this reservation was included in the instrument of ratification deposited in November 2001 and that that was reaffirmed in 2003 in respect of the Isle of Man? Will the Minister please explain to the House what has happened to that reservation? Is it now changing? Why, if it is so important, was it not dealt with earlier? Will she ask the Joint Committee on Human Rights to report on this issue while the Bill is in this House? That would be in line with the committee's expressed duty to do so on all human rights treaties or amendments to such treaties.
I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that the Joint Committee on Human Rights report will help to inform the debate, but it will not be much use once the opportunity to discuss it has passed. Can the noble Baroness also explain how tax immunities for judges of the European Court of Human Rights sit alongside Her Majesty's Government's domestic plans for judicial pensions? What exactly will the tax immunities be and how far will they extend? Will they cover, for example, share portfolios?
We shall be looking for further clarification on monetary immunities and privileges in Committee. Some have questioned why, when we have already waited so long to implement these changes, we should choose to implement them now, regardless of how low the cost is said to be. The country is already so highly taxed, with 66 new stealth taxes introduced since 1997.
It has been suggested that there are some concerns for the human rights of employees who work in the Commonwealth Secretariat as regards transparency and their ability to air grievances, and the accountability of the organisation should employees be made immune from the British court system. Will the noble Baroness please comment on that issue and reassure the House that that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights?
I cannot end without a brief word on the excellent contribution of my noble friend Lord Moynihan. I fully support his views on sport. In international terms, sport is vital in so many ways for our country and for its inhabitants, although this is not the right occasion to debate that.
I have outlined some of our concerns on which we shall wish to seek detailed assurances and clarification during the progress of this Bill. We on these Benches have expressed reservations about aspects of the International Criminal Court and European bodies. Those are well known. Against that background, we intend to carry out our role as the scrutinising upper House to ensure that this legislation meets the agreements upon which it is based and no more.
My Lords, I welcome the broad support of the House for this "useful" Bill, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, described it. I am sorry to disappoint him, but the International Criminal Court is quite distinct from the International Cricket Council. My ICC is not based here either. As he is well aware, it is based in the Hague. His ICC has a number of issues to discuss with my right honourable and honourable friends in the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but not in relation to this Bill.
I applaud the noble Lord's ingenuity, but his speech really concerned keeping the ICC and other sporting organisations based in London. His argument is that we should use the Bill to improve the financial climate for those organisations to continue to operate in this country. I understand the connection very well. Perhaps I may say why, on this occasion, we shall not be taking his advice about using the Bill as a vehicle for that objective.
The International Organisations Act 1968 concerns only organisations of which the United Kingdom as a state is a member, or organisations of which other sovereign states are members. States are not usually members of international sporting organisations. Therefore, such organisations are outside the scope of the 1968 Act. It would be inappropriate—that is the kindest word I can use—to extend the Act to those sporting occasions. I am sure that we all give the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, full marks, as always, for very good bowling, even if on this occasion he did not claim a wicket.
I turn to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, on the Commonwealth Secretariat. By conferring on the Commonwealth Secretariat extended immunity from the jurisdiction of UK courts, the Bill does nothing more than bring the immunities of the Commonwealth Secretariat into line with the treatment accorded a number of international organisations based in the United Kingdom and abroad. The noble Baroness tried to argue that the Commonwealth Secretariat was different. All these organisations are different; all of them are unique in their own way. However, it is important that we try to bring them into line with each other and do not try to single out individual ones for certain treatment, particularly in the way that the noble Baroness suggested.
On the issue of whether UK law applies in general, we would expect international organisations based in the United Kingdom to comply with our domestic laws and regulations as a matter of policy, regardless of immunity from the jurisdiction of the UK courts that they enjoy. I do not accept that the Bill dilutes the rights of the employees of the Commonwealth Secretariat in the way described by the noble Baroness. Far less do I accept her claim that it is a diminution of human rights.
The noble Baroness produced a number of arguments about the CSAT. In my opening remarks I pointed out that the CSAT is an internal arbitration mechanism, established in 1995. It was established to resolve contractual disputes, once a party has exhausted any other remedies available to the secretariat, and that includes staff grievance procedures. None of that excludes any of the points raised by the noble Baroness.
An important provision in the statute is the requirement that the rules of the CSAT must ensure that applications before it are,
"dealt with in a manner that is independent and impartial and consistent with the Commonwealth Harare principles in relation to fundamental human rights and independence of the judiciary".
I really think that that covers what I agree are the very important points that she raises.
The noble Baroness also asked about the bodies covered by Clause 5. I endeavoured to give examples of those in my opening remarks, but on this occasion my usual rapid rate of delivery may have been a little too speedy. Let me reiterate. The first example is ATHENA, which is the mechanism which enables member states quickly to contribute towards financing EU military peacekeeping missions. Of course, EU moneys cannot be used for that purpose unless it is specifically decided that it should be. Secondly, the satellite centre provides imagery analysis and helps us to monitor crises worldwide. There is also the Institute for Security Studies which adds academic analysis and strategic thinking to the way we are able to develop our CFSP.
My Lords, we may need to probe that matter a little further in Committee. I have only recently discovered that there is a similar funding mechanism within the third pillar—the European Refugee Fund. Will other such bodies also come into this category, so that we may expect more and more of these agencies to qualify for the same privileges?
My Lords, I was just coming on to that point, because the noble Lord was very clear in the question that he asked. Basically, he asked whether we needed to take a hard look at the sort of privileges and immunities conferred on the EU bodies that are established in the future and why such immunities and privileges would be appropriate. The fact is that privileges and immunities are conferred on organisations and bodies to ensure that they are able to carry out their functions without being impeded. That is the whole point.
The general policy of this Government—which after all goes back to the policy of the previous government in the 1980s—is that privileges and immunities should be granted primarily on the basis of functional need. So each time there is a proposal to set up an EU body, the Government take a view on whether the body needs legal capacity and/or privileges and immunities. It is only if such a need is established that we proceed to negotiate a privileges and immunities agreement.
So the short answer to the noble Lord's question is that we look at each case as it arises and judge whether the privileges and immunities are merited. We then negotiate an agreement and bring it into UK law by whatever means we can—sometimes by Order in Council and sometimes by primary legislation, as in the case of the Bill.
However, my blood ran cold when the noble Lord got to his feet and described this as "tidying up legislation". I hesitate to agree with that description; the last time a Minister did so we never heard the end of it. Especially as this Bill has a European dimension, I counsel the noble Lord to join me in using a good deal of caution with such descriptions.
The noble Lord asked why we were extending immunities to families. Where those involved are connected to senior court officials—such as those on the European Court of Human Rights—it is very important to ensure that those officials cannot be undermined by threats against close members of their families. That is why it is important to confer immunities on family members.
The noble Lord was also worried about the increasing number of people covered by immunities. In fact the Bill does not confer a huge number of immunities. Of all the bodies mentioned, the only one based in the United Kingdom is the Commonwealth Secretariat, which employs up to 280 staff. The figure is currently a bit below that, but that is the complement.
We need the legislation because of visiting members of other bodies such as the ICC, which is based in The Hague. When its officials visit this country they have to have those sorts of protections. We are talking about six international organisations, but I would not want your Lordships to think that this is a huge extension in the number of those covered by immunities and privileges. That would not be the case.
The noble Lord raised queries about the OSCE. The OSCE is an enormously important organisation. Of course we have recently had our difficulties, but, my goodness, it is a vibrant organisation, as I saw when I went to its recent meeting in Sofia. It played a vital role most recently in the elections in the Ukraine, and earlier this year in the elections in Georgia. We seek constantly and constructively to engage Russia in refocusing OSCE activity. We do not want to see any weakening of our relationship with the OSCE. I think that the relationship is a very valuable instrument to have at our disposal, and I hope that I shall be able to persuade the noble Lord that that is the case.
I thank very much the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, for her support—if not for the lengthy list of questions that she produced. I shall do my best to answer what I can of those. I assure her that this Bill has got nothing to do with the EU constitutional Bill; it deals with legislation that we need to have on the statute book.
The noble Baroness was quite searching in her questions about why we have waited so long to confer this provision on, for example, the ICC. I had hoped that I touched delicately on this issue in my opening remarks when I said that it had not been possible until now to find a legislative slot for this legislation. That is the truth. Many of us wish that it had been possible to find a slot before now, but at least we have the legislation in front of us now. So I hope the noble Baroness will be generous on that point.
As for the legal basis and why we need to deal with this matter when the EU does not have a legal personality, the bodies need legal capacity and privileges and immunities to operate. Once we have agreed to the Council decisions or other measures to establish these bodies, the UK is under an obligation to confer those under international law. I am sure that the noble Baroness will wish to probe the matter further in Committee. I am also sure that my noble friend Lady Crawley and I will have a great deal of fun in dealing with that in the future.
The noble Baroness also asked why the immunities to which I referred in answering the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, did not include civil partners. The aim of the Civil Partnership Act is that civil partners should be accorded parity of treatment with spouses. The Bill does not refer to spouses. The phrase used in the Bill is,
"members of their families who form part of their households".
We believe that that covers civil partners as it now covers spouses. Therefore, there is no need expressly to provide for civil partners in the Bill. We believe that other legislation has dealt with that issue.
The noble Baroness raised a number of other questions. I shall go through them very carefully and I hope to give her satisfaction in the answers I provide. I was happy to see that we agree on the excellent erudition and powerful arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. However, I regret to say that we disagree on the appropriateness of the intervention.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.