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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Draft International Organisations (Immunities & Privileges) Miscellaneous Provisions Order 2006




 
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Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:

Mr. David Amess

†Blizzard, Mr. Bob (Waveney) (Lab)
†Borrow, Mr. David S. (South Ribble) (Lab)
†Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
†Campbell, Mr. Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)
Davidson, Mr. Ian (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op)
†Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
†Flynn, Paul (Newport, West) (Lab)
Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
†Hall, Patrick (Bedford) (Lab)
Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
†Howells, Dr. Kim (Minister for the Middle East)
†Kumar, Dr. Ashok (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab)
Moore, Mr. Michael (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD)
†Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)
†Simpson, Mr. Keith (Mid-Norfolk) (Con)
†Vara, Mr. Shailesh (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee


 
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Monday 27 March 2006

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Draft International Organisations (Immunities & Privileges) Miscellaneous Provisions Order 2006

4.30 pm

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Miscellaneous Provisions Order 2006.

I cannot remember, Mr. Amess, whether we have ever sat together in Room 16. If we have, it was some time ago.

The order was laid before the House on 6 March 2006 together with the explanatory memorandum now required for all affirmative statutory instruments. It amends the 10 orders set out in the schedule, which were made under the International Organisations Act 1968, by substituting “spouse or civil partner” “for spouse”. Those orders confer privileges and immunities on the civil partners of high officials of the 10 international organisations listed, which are all based outside the United Kingdom.

No amendments are required to confer privileges and immunities on the civil partners of the rank-and-file officials of those 10 organisations, or any other, as no reference is made in the relevant legislation to “spouse”, but only to

    “members of the family forming part of the household”.

We consider that that formula includes both spouses and civil partners. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 (International Immunities and Privileges, Companies and Adoption) Order 2005 amended sections 1 and 2 of the International Organisations Act to enable the United Kingdom to confer privileges and immunities on a civil partner.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004, which came into force on 5 December 2005, provides a framework that allows formal recognition of same-sex relationships. Civil partners now have legally binding rights and responsibilities in relation to each other, and have acquired a new status that affects how they are treated by third parties, including the state.

One of the main aims of the Civil Partnership Act is to ensure parity of treatment between married couples and civil partners, except when there is an objective justification for different treatment. The amendments made in the order are required to ensure that parity of treatment is accorded to civil partners. I am satisfied that the order is compatible with the rights contained in the European convention on human rights, and I hope that it will receive the Committee’s full support.


 
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4.33 pm

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): What a privilege it is, Mr. Amess, to serve under your command for the first time, It is also a great delight for members of the Conservative party, and I suspect even our Liberal Democrat colleague, to be in Room 16, which has so aptly been renamed the “Ramsay MacDonald Room”. I know what an important place Ramsay MacDonald has in the history of the Labour party, and how his name has been associated, in a derogatory way, with our current Prime Minister—I think unjustifiably, probably. I suppose that when Ramsay MacDonald was leading a National Government, it would have been possible to put most of its National Liberal members in a room about the size of this one. But do not let me continue with that analogy, which must be painful to the Government.

I am grateful for the Minister’s opening statement. In the new world in which the Conservative party lives, of being positive and letting one thousand flowers bloom, rather than the bad old world of permanent opposition known as “doing an Eric Forth”, we will not delay the Committee for the full one and a half hours.

The International Organisations Bill is rightly intended to ensure the effective functioning of international organisations and bodies. We were told that measures were required to enable Her Majesty’s Government to meet outstanding institutional commitments and to ensure parity of treatment between organisations where appropriate, and we supported the Bill accordingly. However, I have a few questions for the Minister.

It is my understanding that privileges and immunities agreed between states are reciprocal. We extend privileges to the staff of international organisations on the understanding that our staff overseas will receive the same treatment in return. Is the Minister satisfied that where we will be conferring privileges and immunities on civil partners, our own staff employed overseas will receive the same rights?

What will be the implication for our staff serving in countries where civil partnerships are not recognised? Can the Minister envisage that scenario arising? An hon. Friend of mine mentioned to me a few moments ago the legal position of any children adopted, if that is the right phrase, through a civil partnership; what exactly will be their legal status?

Privileges and immunities are negotiated case by case. I understand that no two organisations have exactly the same arrangement. Does the Minister expect many of the organisations to which the order relates to apply for rights for civil partners, or is it merely a question of amending our law in line with the Civil Partnerships Act? Have the Government received requests to confer rights on civil partners in such a context?

The former Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), said:

    “Of the 3,000 staff of international organisations based, or with offices, in the UK, only 80 senior officers enjoy the equivalent of full diplomatic privileges and immunities.”


 
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How many people will the order affect? That statement was made on Second Reading of the International Organisations Bill.

The schedule to the order sets out the organisations to which the legislation will be applied. What criteria were used to identify those 10 particular organisations, and does the Minister envisage that the order will be extended in the future to include others? In that case, what criteria will be used? Furthermore, will the same criteria be applied to diplomatic posts and missions overseas and in this country?

The Government’s stated policy is that

    “privileges and immunities should be granted primarily on the basis of functional need, to ensure that only those privileges and immunities necessary for the organisation to function effectively are granted.” —[Official Report, 7 April 2005; Vol. 432, c. 1632.]

Once again, that was said by the former Minister for Europe. How does it relate to the order? What are the criteria for determining the basis of functional need in this context?

I hope that in the brave new world of reciprocal generosity the Minister will be able to answer those few simple questions, bearing in mind that Ramsay MacDonald’s beady eye is on us. Indeed, without wandering too far from the subject, I had wondered where he had gone, because for a long time the painting on the back wall of the room was at the Labour end of the Members’ Tea Room and, joy of joys, few Labour MPs recognised who it was. I, of course, went out of my way to point it out to them.

4.38 pm

Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): I have over the past six or seven months spoken to a number of people who work for the Foreign Office or who serve in the diplomatic service and who intended to enter into a civil partnership. I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) that we should ensure that were they to find themselves representing Her Majesty in various parts of the world, their civil partnership would be recognised and the privileges arising for their spouse would also be recognised. I would like some reassurance from the Minister.

4.39 pm

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I support the order and do not intend to detain the Committee at any great length, for no other reason than that many of the points have already been touched on in the two previous speeches.

I have three questions. First, what safeguards have the Government in place to ensure that diplomatic immunities and privileges are not abused? Everybody in this House would recognise that they are useful and appropriate in many circumstances, but they can cause resentment when people feel that they are flouted or overlooked.

Secondly, what reassurances has the Minister had that the provisions will be recognised and applied elsewhere? We need to be confident that reciprocal arrangements are in place and that the rights of British citizens will be protected at all times.


 
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Finally, can the Minister reassure the Committee that the Government are fully confident as to the scope of the provisions? I am not sure whether the 10 examples cited are exhaustive or whether there is scope for the measures to be extended. Broadly, we welcome the provisions, but we should be grateful for answers to those points.

4.41 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Does the Minister feel that some diplomatic posts will not be able to receive those who are in civil partnerships, and does he think that that will be advantageous or disadvantageous to the work of the Foreign Office?

4.42 pm

Dr. Howells: I thank the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk for having given us a potted history of a certain thread of Labour party history; it was fascinating.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for the order. He asked why there are just 10 orders in the list. It is because the orders refer to

    “members of the family forming part of the household”

in conferring privileges and immunities on the primary beneficiary. We consider that phrase to include both spouses and civil partners.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has looked at the list of international organisations in respect of which the amendments are needed. Let me run through them: the Customs Co-operation Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, specialised agencies of the United Nations, the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, the World Trade Organisation, the International Seabed Authority, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Plan Treaty Organisation and the European Court of Human Rights. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) asked whether that was an exhaustive list. I believe that it is.

The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk also asked how many individuals will be affected. We are not aware of any. References to “spouse” cover only high officers in the 10 organisations that I have just listed, not rank-and-file officials. All 10 organisations are based outside the United Kingdom. In order to contract a civil partnership, individuals need to give at least 15 clear days’ notice in the area of the United Kingdom in which they have resided for at least seven days. To our knowledge, no high officer of any of the 10 organisations concerned plans to come to the United Kingdom to contract a civil partnership.

Let me return to the point about whether the list is inclusive. It certainly is not. Under the International Organisations Act 1968, as amended, we are introducing the order, under the affirmative procedure, to amend 10 orders that contain references to “spouse”. Those orders confer privileges and immunities on the civil partners of high officials of the 10 international organisations listed, all of which are
 
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based outside the UK. As I said, no amendments are required to confer privileges and immunities on the civil partners of rank-and-file officials of those 10, or any other, organisations.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) was keen that I should tell him that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 will afford proper safeguards and privileges to all the people to whom he referred. The Act provides a new legal framework that will enable recognition of same-sex relationships through the new “civil partner” status and the new, legal “civil partnership”. Civil partners will have legally binding rights and responsibilities in relation to each other and will acquire a new status, which will affect how they are treated by third parties, including the state. The Act aims to ensure that there is parity of treatment between married couples and civil partners, except where there is an objective justification for them to be treated differently. I hope that my hon. Friend realises that that is across the piece. I assure him that the safeguards that he desires will be there.

I hope that I have covered most of the questions asked by hon. Members, and I commend the order to Committee.

Mr. Simpson: May I return briefly to one question that the Minister may have missed while shuffling his papers? Given the list of international organisations
 
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outlined in the draft statutory instrument, this point probably does not apply, but I asked whether privileges would be extended to staff of international organisations on the understanding that our staff overseas will receive the same treatment in return. Is the Minister satisfied that where we confer privileges and immunities on civil partners, our staff employed overseas will receive the same rights? It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an international organisation might be set up in a country that, through its law or religion, does not recognise this right.

Dr. Howells: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definite answer on that. Our policy of recognising civil partnerships was adopted by the Government because it was the right thing to do. The UK would welcome compliance from, for example, other European Union states, but it is ultimately a matter for each state to decide depending on the policy choices available to them. However, I assure him that there are staff abroad who will enjoy the privileges that I outlined in my opening statement.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Miscellaneous Provisions Order 2006.

Committee rose at eleven minutes to Five o’clock.

                                                                                           
 
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