International Organisations Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:05 pm on 16th December 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 12:05 pm, 16th December 2004

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 9 December. The noble Lord asked why the Government were conferring privileges and immunities by means of the ICC order when the International Organisations Bill was due to come before the House today. The noble Lord also asked why the Explanatory Notes to the International Organisations Bill state:

"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.)