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 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.