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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I want to make one point to the Minister and, in a sense, my own Front Benchers. The Bill may well be desirable and necessary, and it may well be required to fulfil this or that obligation, but I hope that our agreement to this Bill will not in any sense imply that we completely underwrite all the organisations involved or expect them to continue indefinitely and without question. Once such bodies are established, they expand their activities and assume a sort of permanence, regardless of changes in the international context.
I hope that the Bill is being presented in a focused and limited way. Perhaps properly, it provides certain immunities under established international obligations. I hope that people here or anywhere else do not believe that hon. Members think that such organisations are completely wonderful and beyond criticism and that they should exist from now to eternity without challenge. That point is important, and I hope that the Minister or perhaps a Conservative Front Bencher, will nod in its direction.
The Minister for Europe: I am grateful for hon. Members' comments, which are important. I will not rise to the remarks made by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who was sorely missed at Tuesday's final Foreign Affairs questions. [Interruption.] We look forward to his successor sitting on the Opposition Front Bench after the election on 5 May.
The points raised by hon. Members have been thoroughly discussed in the other place. In its 15th report of the current Session, the Joint Committee on Human Rightsthe hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) is a member of that Committee, and we are sorry that he is retiringconcluded that the Bill did not need to be brought to the attention of either House on human rights grounds.
Hon. Members have expressed concern about the general principle of conferring immunities and privileges, but it is simply the old injunction, "Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself." If we want British officials serving in international organisations in many different parts of the world to have appropriate immunities and privileges, it is rather arrogant of us not to be willing to find a small amount of parliamentary timethis Bill has been waiting for some years to be brought before Parliamentto put our own house in order in this regard.
Let me stress that privileges and immunities are there to protect officials, not Governments. I completely agree with the points raised about Belarus and other dictatorial countries, but citizens of any of those countries can serve honestly and openly on international bodies, and those gentlemen and, where appropriate, their families, should be thus protected.
Let me stress again that the House is not conferring such immunities and privileges on any single individual in any single organisation. They will all have to be brought before the House by way of affirmative motion
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under the Order-in-Council procedure. That will allow genuine concerns, which I fully accept, to be raised and debated.
I am not entirely surprised that the European Union was brought up. However, this is about existing treaty agreementswe are not talking about the constitutional treaty in any way. Some EU bodies need legal capacity and privileges and immunities to operate. Once one has agreed to European Council decisionsthat is where Ministers of national Governments decide, not the Commission or a bureaucracyor to other measures to establish them, the UK is under an obligation to confer them under international law. The fact that the EU does not have a legal personality except to the extent that it concludes agreements pursuant to articles 24 or 38 of the treaty on the European Union is immaterial.
Some powerful and important points were made by Members of the other place, and I am sure that those arguments can be discussed when we return with a statutory instrument. The entire House is conscious that we should not be creating new categories of privileged ladies and gentlemen in the UK who are not under the same laws of the land as we all have to abide by. However, international organisations are important. Many British citizens serve in them with great distinction, sometimes under some hardship, and as we applaud their work and insist that the countries in which they serve confer such immunities and privileges, we should not refuse them in the United Kingdom.
I thank hon. Members for helping the Government to put the Bill on the statute book. I hope that Third Reading will be agreed and I wish all hon. Members, colleagues and friends Godspeed and an enjoyable four weeks.
Mr. Speaker (in the Clerk's place at the Table): I have to acquaint the House that the House has been to the House of Peers, where a Commission under the Great Seal was read, authorising the Royal Assent of the following Acts:
Mr. Speaker: I have further to acquaint the House that the Lord High Chancellor, one of the Lords Commissioners, delivered Her Majesty's most Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, in pursuance of Her Majesty's Command. For greater accuracy I have obtained a copy, and also directed that the terms of the Speech be printed in the Journal of this House. Copies are being made available in the Vote Office:
My Government has continued to work towards the reduction of bureaucracy and the costs of Government, and towards promoting efficiency. An Act has been passed to integrate the Inland Revenue and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise.
Draft legislation has been published to safeguard the welfare of children in circumstances of parental separation and inter-country adoption from countries where there are concerns about child welfare.
My Government has continued to work with partners around the world to prevent terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the problems of drug smuggling and international crime.
My Government has worked to strengthen commitment on both sides of the Atlantic to the transatlantic relationship and to the continued effectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and has worked with the international community to strengthen the United Nations.
"My Lords and Members of the House of Commons: By virtue of Her Majesty's Commission which has now been read, we do, in Her Majesty's name, and in obedience to Her Majesty's commands, prorogue this Parliament to Thursday, the Fourteenth day of April to be then here holden, and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Thursday, the Fourteenth day of April."
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