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Session 1999-2000
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation
(Immunities and Privileges) Order 2000

Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Thursday 23 March 2000

[Mr. Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Draft Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation
(Immunities and Privileges) Order 2000

9.55 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2000.

The order was laid before the House on 7 March. It will enable the Government to ratify the convention on the establishment of the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation, which the Government provisionally accepted on 9 September 1998. The draft order is made under the International Organisations Act 1968 and will give effect in United Kingdom law to the privileges and immunities granted by the convention. The privileges and immunities granted are necessary for the organisation, its staff and experts, as well as the representatives of member states, to carry out their functions. In accordance with section 1(6)(a) of the International Organisations Act 1968, the privileges and immunities conferred by the draft order are no greater in extent than those required by the convention or those authorised by the Act. The headquarters of the organisation are in Bonn, Germany. The organisation currently employs 30 staff, including five British nationals.

The Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation is known by its French acronym, OCCAR. It was launched under the previous Conservative Government as a defence procurement collaboration between the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy in November 1996. In joining this work, the United Kingdom aimed to participate in setting up a body which, in the words of the then Minister for Defence Procurement,

    Added value not bureaucracy; one which will lead to more efficient and effective collaborative ventures than those seen to date, producing equipment which can compete with the best in the world.

The aim of the organisation is to bring the best together and the purpose of its formal status is to allow it to place and manage contracts in its own name and to employ its own staff. That should lead to synergy in the range of skills and techniques based on best international practice.

All four member states signed the OCCAR convention at the Farnborough air show on 9 September 1998. The text was published and presented to Parliament, Command Paper 4367, in June 1999, under cover of an explanatory memorandum, approved by the then Minister for Defence Procurement. Subsequently, the House of Commons Defence Committee has examined the development of OCCAR and the implications of the convention. The Committee's report was published on 6 December 1999 and recommended that, subject to certain provisos that will be met, the convention should be ratified. The report concluded that the House should give its approval to the present order to allow for United Kingdom ratification.

The convention is open to other European states, and the Netherlands and Belgium have already indicated their interest in becoming partners in due course. It sets out, among other things, the founding principles, and the general organisation and objectives of OCCAR. The key aim is to strengthen the competitiveness of European defence technology and its industrial base, pulling together where possible.

An important commitment in article 6 is that each member state is obliged to give preference to equipment in whose development it has participated within OCCAR when meeting the requirements of its armed forces. The basic principle of OCCAR is to improve the effectiveness of project management in collaborative projects. The order ensures that its staff can move backwards and forwards in Britain under privileges and immunity regulations. All four member states have signed the convention and agreed that OCCAR shall have a legal personality and that its staff and experts, as well as representatives of member states, shall enjoy the privileges and immunities set out in annex I to the convention, article 40. The privileges and immunities are similar to those accorded to all the other international organisations, and are necessary for us to conform with our international obligations. There are 33 other organisations that have the same privileges and immunities. The proposal would bring OCCAR into line with them.

I strongly commend the draft order to the Committee. It is not about defence procurement strategy, but about the team of people in the organisation having access to privileges and immunities. I hope that this modest, non-controversial proposal will have the full support of all members of the Committee.

10 am

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I thank the Minister for the delightful way in which he introduced what I, too, see as a non-controversial order. I agree with him that we are discussing not how the Organisation Conjointe de Co-operation en Matiere d'Armament—

Mr. Battle: I was told that we could not speak French in Committee, Mr. Winterton.

Mrs. Gillan:—or OCCAR—will operate, but rather the immunities and privileges that are granted through the order. We understand that immunities and privileges are granted to international organisations on a purely practical basis to allow them effectively to fulfil their functions. That includes the preservation of their independence of action. An international organisation should not be subject to any form of leverage by the host nation.

Will the Minister tell us if reciprocal orders have been passed in the other European countries? Does the order differ substantially from those passed to cover other diplomatic organisations? When does the Minister expect the order to come into force?

I am sad that OCCAR is based in Bonn, Germany, and not in London. If my understanding of history serves me well, we would have had the United Nations here in the United Kingdom if we had been more generous in providing free Scotch to its members, but we lost the UN to another country. Since one can see how Brussels, indeed Belgium, has benefited from NATO, will the Minister comment on whether there are any other areas where we could be generous and attract more international organisations to locate their operations within our bounaries?

Mr. Battle: In answer to the hon. Lady's first question, yes there is and will be similar reciprocal privileges and immunities legislation in other countries. Secondly she asked whether there was any difference between the order and previous provision of privileges and immunities for international organisations. No, it will be exactly the same. Having said that, it is important to stress that under diplomatic and immunities legislation, there are variations and degrees of diplomatic immunity. For example, the director would have the equivalent status of full diplomatic immunity, but not all the other staff would. Within that context it will be no different. In answer to the hon. Lady's third question, the order will come into force as soon as the House of Lords accept and approve it.

On the hon. Lady's comments about Bonn, I am tempted to make a sharp political point and say that if I were negotiating where the organisation were to be based, as the previous Government were, I would have put in a good pitch for London. I am delighted by the hon. Lady's conversion to the notion that we could campaign for more European institutions to be based in London and the rest of Britain. On that basis, I welcome her to the Committee this morning.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): I apologise for being late. I thought that, like a good cocktail party, 9.55 am meant 10 o'clock. I have learnt my lesson.

I notice that the immunities and privileges referred to in the order exclude traffic accidents. Will the Minister tell us if the immunities and privileges for the staff of the organisation include the bane of the life of some people who live in London—immunity and privileges in terms of parking their cars where they please? Certain embassies are notorious for that and apparently do not have to pay fines. Will those who are covered by the immunities and privileges in this order perpetuate that?

Mr. Battle: As I understand it, the order will bring the organisation into line with the privileges and immunities legislation as a whole. This is not a privileges and immunities Bill, nor is it a privileges and immunities (parking) Bill. That is a wider question. I take the hon. Gentleman's point and I am advised that staff will be subject to parking fines, so the order will follow the usual rules for diplomatic privileges and immunities now. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we look at that legislation again because of the way that some people are, as he might put it, abusing those privileges by parking and getting away with it, that is a wider question for other parts of the House. It would not be within the confines of this debate. The verbatim report of this debate will be published and circulation will be wider than the Committee, and I hope that people who need to take notice of that, will do so.

The Chairman: Before I put the question to the Committee, the Minister from a sedentary position indicated to the Chair that he felt that he was not able to spell out the full title of OCCAR because it was in French. I am able to tell the Committee that if there is a title and it happens to be in French, a Member may spell it out in full but he is not entitled to address the Committee in French for the remainder of his address. I hope that that is of interest. It is also worth mentioning that at one time French was the legal language in this House and in the upper House the Divisions are still ``Content'' and ``Non Content''—happy or not happy.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2000.—[Mr. Battle.]

        Committee rose at seven minutes past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Winterton, Mr. Nicholas (Chairman)
Battle, Mr.
Caton, Mr.
Chapman, Sir S.
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Gillan, Mrs.
McNulty, Mr.
Meale, Mr.
Perham, Ms
Rooney, Mr.
Squire, Ms
Trend, Mr.
Whitehead, Dr.
Williams, Mr. Alan W.


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