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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.

3.58 pm

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 Rights—the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) is a member of that Committee, and we are sorry that he is retiring—concluded 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 time—this Bill has been waiting for some years to be brought before Parliament—to 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
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1640
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    agreements—we 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 decisions—that is where Ministers of national Governments decide, not the Commission or a bureaucracy—or 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.

With that, I hope that the House can move forward into Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills),

Question agreed to.

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Mr. Michael Lord in the Chair]

Clauses 1 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Short Title, Interpretation, Commencement and Extent

4.3 pm

Mr. MacShane: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 4, line 38, leave out subsection (6).

The amendment, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, removes the privileged amendment made in another place.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with an amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

7 Apr 2005 : Column 1641
4.4 pm

The Minister for Europe: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

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.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with an amendment.

4.5 pm

Sitting suspended.


5.5 pm

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners:

The House went:—and, having returned:

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:

Finance Act 2005

Appropriation (No. 2) Act 2005

Mental Capacity Act 2005

Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005

Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005

Disability Discrimination Act 2005

Education Act 2005

Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005

Inquiries Act 2005

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

Drugs Act 2005

International Organisations Act 2005

Railways Act 2005

Gambling Act 2005

7 Apr 2005 : Column 1642


Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

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 Lords and Members of the House of Commons

My Government has pursued economic policies which have brought about sustained growth and prosperity.

My Government has continued to take action to secure high levels of employment as it reforms the welfare state.

An Act has been passed that allows for the extension of the circumstances in which a family can be eligible for Child Benefit for 16–19 year olds who are in learning.

Legislation has been enacted to support the continuing fight against terrorism in the United Kingdom.

An Act has been passed to reform the office of Lord Chancellor, and to establish a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom and a Judicial Appointments Commission for England and Wales.

An Act has been passed as an interim measure to make the electoral register in Northern Ireland both accurate and comprehensive until more permanent measures can be put in place.

Legislation has been passed to provide a statutory framework for dealing with the financial, health and welfare decisions of those people who might lack capacity through mental illness or disability.

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.

An Act has been passed to establish the Serious Organised Crime Agency and to strengthen the fight against crime.

An Act has been passed to improve local environmental quality by tackling the antisocial behaviour that blights our communities.

Legislation has been enacted to streamline the school inspection regime and to bring in three-year budgets for schools, which will help raise standards for every child in every school.

An Act has been passed to unify and simplify the Ombudsman service in Wales.

An Act has been passed to tackle the problem of drug abuse and the crime that flows from it.
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1643

Legislation has been enacted to enable the United Kingdom to fulfil international commitments to confer privileges and immunities on a number of international organisations and bodies.

Measures to reform the law on mental health have undergone pre-legislative scrutiny.

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.

A draft Bill has been published to introduce a new offence of corporate manslaughter.

Draft legislation has been published to ensure the better management and protection of our natural environment and rural communities.

A Bill has been introduced to authorise the construction of Crossrail.

Other important measures have been enacted.

Members of the House of Commons

I thank you for the provision you have made for the work and dignity of the Crown and for the public service.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

The Duke of Edinburgh and I were pleased to receive the State Visit of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Korea and the State Visit of His Excellency the President of Italy.

My Government currently holds the G8 Presidency, and is placing high priority on the important issues of Africa and climate change.
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1644

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 Government continues to support the Government of Iraq to provide security and stability following the elections held in January.

My Government has continued to support efforts to build peace in the Middle East, to promote democratic reform and reduce conflict and extremism.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

The Commission was also for proroguing this present Parliament and the Lord Chancellor said:

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