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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Draft European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Privileges and Immunities) Order 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: John Cummings
Brady, Mr. Graham (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Burgon, Colin (Elmet) (Lab)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Byers, Mr. Stephen (North Tyneside) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie (Blyth Valley) (Lab)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
Crabb, Mr. Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham) (Lab)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Hoon, Mr. Geoffrey (Minister for Europe)
Kennedy, Jane (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
Moore, Mr. Michael (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD)
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey (Coventry, North-West) (Lab)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Geoffrey Farrar, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Eighth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 28 June 2006

[John Cummings in the Chair]

Draft European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Privileges and Immunities) Order 2006

2.30 pm
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Privileges and Immunities) Order 2006.
The draft order was laid before the House on 25 May 2006 together with an explanatory memorandum, which is now required for all affirmative statutory instruments.
The draft order confers the legal capacities of a body corporate and privileges and immunities on the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. It also confers privileges and immunities on representatives of state parties, the director general and officials of the organisation. These privileges and immunities are conferred in accordance with the protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which was signed on behalf of the United Kingdom on 18 March 2004.
The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which is known as CERN, is situated on the French-Swiss border near Geneva and was founded by 12 member states that had ratified the convention for the establishment of a European Organisation for Nuclear Research on 29 September 1954. UK ratification was deposited on 30 December 1953.
CERN is the world's leading particle physics centre and provides an infrastructure for member states to engage in science projects that would not otherwise be viable. It is funded by 20 member states with the United Kingdom contributing some £80 million, which amounts to 20 per cent. of the total budget. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council leads on policy at officia1 level.
The draft order will allow the United Kingdom to comply with its international obligations in giving full effect to the protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. I am satisfied that the draft order is compatible with the European convention on human rights.
I hope that this non-controversial draft order will receive the full support of all members of the Committee.
2.32 pm
The explanatory memorandum says that there is little by way of practical implication for the United Kingdom, principally because of the location of CERN in Geneva. Will the Minister say whether there will be any practical effect for the United Kingdom and particularly whether immunity extends to the specified officials and representatives of states when travelling via the United Kingdom? Do meetings held under the auspices of the organisation ever take place in the United Kingdom and, if so, would the immunities in question apply on those occasions and in regard to travel to and from those meetings? Are any of the organisation’s staff or members of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council based in the United Kingdom or ordinarily resident here, albeit without having permanent residency, which I understand is a category that is excluded by the draft order? If so, how many people fall into those categories? Are any of the staff of the council in the UK overseas citizens who may benefit from the immunities if they are travelling during the course of their employment or the necessary functions of their position to the organisation in Geneva or any of its meetings elsewhere? Can the Minister confirm that any person who may in future fall into those categories would benefit from immunities and privileges?
Given that the order excludes British citizens, British overseas citizens, British overseas territories citizens, British nationals and permanent residents of the United Kingdom, can the Minister tell us the extent to which other member countries have enacted similar provisions to provide immunity for British citizens and those in the categories that are excluded by the draft order? Of the 20 member countries of the organisation, how many have taken that action to extend the necessary immunities and privileges to date? These immunities and privileges are serious. Subject to the assurances that I have sought, we have no objection in principle to this order, but I hope the Minister will accept that the creation of privileges of this sort is an important matter and should be done sparingly and only when necessary.
2.35 pm
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I echo the words of the Conservative spokesman and recognise that this is not a particularly controversial order. I do not anticipate it detaining the Committee for very long. I wish to join those who have spoken in paying tribute to the work of CERN and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, whose offices I had the privilege to visit before I became a Member of Parliament. I admire their work and their leadership in developing science. I also pay tribute to the Government for their commitment to science funding.
Following on from the points made by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), I would like to widen the debate slightly and say that we have to be extremely cautious about the continued extension of diplomatic privileges. They are of course not to be conferred lightly. While reading the order, I was struck by the some of the
“exemptions from duties(whether customs or excise) and taxes on the importation of furniture and personal effects (including one motor vehicle each)”
and the
“exemption from income tax in respect of salaries”
and so on. Will the Minister comment on how sparingly the Government intend to confer these privileges? Obviously, there will be a degree of unease in any open, democratic society about their being too widely available. Otherwise, we concur with the need for the order.
2.37 pm
Mr. Hoon: I thank the hon. Members for Altrincham and Sale, West and for Taunton (Mr. Browne) for their questions and contributions. I emphasise that no Government confer diplomatic privileges lightly. It is, as both hon. Gentlemen observed, a serious matter. Such privileges are not conferred lightly, but equally it is necessary that the UK should live up to its international obligations, especially those entered into by previous Governments but which bind this Government unless and until there is an international agreement to change such treaty arrangements. I mention these matters lightly, just to emphasise to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West that simply saying it is possible to change the international treaties that we are bound by as a country is one thing; actually doing something about it is quite another. As the Opposition seem to be somewhat obsessed with changing our international obligations, I shall give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to explain how.
Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister. Does he not agree that it is more likely that a country may succeed in renegotiating its obligations if it has a Government who are able to say where they stand on the important issues regarding European policy and what their obligations should be? Perhaps if the Government had a position on, say, the European constitution, we might have more influence than with a Government who refuse to state their position.
Mr. Hoon: I risk being caught out of order if I speculate too much about the future of the European constitution. However, I am making a more fundamental point about international treaty obligations which this Government recognise we are bound by and are carrying out. Interestingly, this particular obligation was ratified in a time frame similar to that of the European convention on human rights, which I know the Conservative Opposition are attached to—but not so attached that they do not wish to change its terms.
The Chairman: Order. The Minister is trying the Chair’s patience.
Mr. Hoon: I was enjoying myself, Mr. Cummings.
In answer to the specific points that the Opposition have been grappling with, there has been no meeting of the organisation so far in the UK, but I confirm that if there were meetings here and staff or representatives travelled to them, they would have the privileges and immunities covered by the order. Indeed, that is probably its primary purpose. No staff are currently based in the United Kingdom. However, two council members are based here—one is a DTI official and the other is an employee of the PPARC.
So far, 10 countries have ratified the protocol, which will ensure reciprocal treatment for UK nationals. As has been mentioned, however, the privileges and immunities will not cover UK citizens who are normally based in the UK.
Mr. Brady: Before the Minister concludes, will he say whether the immunities will apply while staff and council members travelling to Geneva via the UK are in transit?
Mr. Hoon: I am sure that they would, on general principles, but given Geneva’s location and that of the other member countries, those people would be taking a rather roundabout route.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Privileges and Immunities) Order 2006.
Committee rose at nineteen minutes to Three o’clock.

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