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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Janet Dean
Burgon, Colin (Elmet) (Lab)
Burt, Alistair (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con)
Davey, Mr. Edward (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD)
Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow) (Lab)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) (Lab)
Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
Lidington, Mr. David (Aylesbury) (Con)
Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
Merron, Gillian (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)
Oaten, Mr. Mark (Winchester) (LD)
Pound, Stephen (Ealing, North) (Lab)
Prosser, Gwyn (Dover) (Lab)
Soames, Mr. Nicholas (Mid-Sussex) (Con)
Stanley, Sir John (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Turner, Mr. Neil (Wigan) (Lab)
Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 17 November 2008

[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair]

Draft International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008.
The order was laid before the House on 23 October 2008 together with an explanatory memorandum, as is now required for all affirmative statutory instruments. It is a routine and technical order, conferring the legal capacities of a body corporate, and privileges and immunities, upon the International Organization for Migration. It also confers privileges and immunities on representatives of the states parties, the director general and officials of the organisation. Those privileges and immunities are conferred in accordance with the co-operation agreement with the IOM, which was signed on behalf of the UK on 6 July 2006. The co-operation agreement is similar to other agreements that we have with international organisations which have headquarters or offices in the UK, such as the International Maritime Organization and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The order allows the IOM to have the legal capacity of a body corporate, which will assist with its day-to-day dealings in the UK, such as the ability to contract, acquire and dispose of immovable and movable properties and institute legal proceedings. The privileges and immunities that the order accords to the IOM and specified categories of individuals connected with it are similar to those routinely granted to that type of international organisation with offices in the UK. The provisions in the order have been closely scrutinised by the relevant Departments, including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee of the House of Lords.
The privileges and immunities to be accorded to the IOM are the minimum necessary to enable it to function effectively in the UK and include the extension of immunity from suit and legal process to its staff. I draw the attention of hon. Members to article 10(1)(a) of the order, which limits immunity for all IOM staff, except the head of office, to
“things done or omitted to be done in the course of the performance of official duties”.
Article 11(1) of the co-operation agreement also states that the privileges and immunities provided for individuals are
“granted solely to ensure the unimpeded functioning of the Organization and the complete independence of the persons to whom they are accorded. They are not granted for the personal benefit of the individuals concerned.”
Hon. Members will note that the total number of IOM staff in the UK is currently 82. The order therefore will not provide a large increase in the number of individuals who have received privileges and immunities in the UK, which is currently around 24,000.
The order also exempts both the IOM and its staff from certain taxes, such as income tax, and that, again, is normal in such orders. Exemption from taxation is based on the principle that no member state of an international organisation should derive undue fiscal benefit from the funds subscribed to the organisation from all its members. Taxation of the IOM or its staff salaries would run counter to that general principle.
I will say a few words about the IOM. Managed migration is a key priority for the Government, at home and overseas. The global environment is challenging: there are some 200 million migrants worldwide and the number is increasing. Our task is to ensure that migration works for Britain, creating borders that are open to those who bring skills, talent, business and creativity, yet closed to those who might cause us harm or seek to enter the UK illegally. The IOM is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration in partnership with Governments and migrants. As a key partner for Governments and non-governmental organisations, it helps support and facilitate return and reintegration arrangements, running suitably structured projects in priority countries.
The IOM works in close partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the UK Border Agency. It makes a significant contribution to Government objectives in supporting managed migration for the UK and the wider international context. For example, the IOM has been essential in both developing and delivering the Government’s assisted voluntary return programmes. Those have enabled the return to their countries of origin of more than 18,000 failed asylum seekers since 1999 and more than 2,600 illegal migrants since 2004. The IOM has supported the building of capacity in migration and border management for Ethiopian immigration authorities and recently assisted stranded migrants in Libya to return home to Ethiopia.
The IOM delivers reintegration assistance in countries of origin for foreign national prisoners returning under the facilitated returns scheme, and the UK Border Agency programme has returned more than 2,000 foreign national prisoners since it was introduced in October 2006. The IOM is also a key partner in the delivery of the gateway protection programme, under which the Government, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, accept and resettle refugees from camps abroad. The IOM delivers the logistics of the programme, including medical screening, documentation and transportation.
The IOM is funded through contributions from member sates. The UK contributed over £20 million in 2007 for operational programmes and more than £1 million as our assessed contribution to the IOM’s core administrative budget.
The order allows the UK to comply with its international obligations, giving full effect to the privileges and immunities that were agreed in our co-operation agreement signed with the IOM, and that will enable it to continue to develop its strong partnership with the UK. I am satisfied that the order is compatible with the European convention on human rights. It is an important order, which I hope will receive the Committee’s full support.
4.37 pm
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for her introduction to the order. As she said, it is largely technical in character. If we are to be members of the IOM and it is to have officers and a base in this country, it seems logical to extend to it privileges comparable to those already enjoyed by other such international organisations. I have three questions to which I hope the Minister will be able to respond when concluding the debate.
My first question relates to article 8, which states that
“representatives of Members at the meetings of the Organisation shall enjoy”,
among other privileges,
“immunity from personal arrest or detention”.
Will the Minister explain how the protection given to representatives of IOM member states in the measure will read when set alongside the UK’s other international obligations? For example, there is currently a clear British and EU policy to restrict the movement of senior members of the regime in Zimbabwe. The UK objected strongly when President Mugabe was initially invited to an EU-Africa summit several months ago, and there is clearly scope for embarrassment, at the very least, if a representative of Zimbabwe or another regime subject to comparable sanctions were able to evade restrictions on movement by virtue of the privileges conferred by the order.
That could apply not only to senior figures in Zimbabwe, but to individuals in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Future sanctions might be directed against individuals in the Iranian regime on account of its nuclear programme. Whether such restrictions on movement are implemented domestically by Britain, by the EU or by the United Nations Security Council, I would like to be clear about whether the privileges that we are debating this afternoon override such restrictions automatically, and if not, who is to decide which rules should have precedence.
My other two questions are more technical in nature. Paragraph 4.3 of the explanatory memorandum issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office states:
“The privileges and immunities conferred by the draft Order are no greater in extent than those required by the Agreement to enable the Organization and specified individuals connected with the Organization to function effectively.”
I seek confirmation for the record that the order cannot be interpreted as going further than the words of the agreement between the UK and the IOM.
Lastly, I shall press the Minister on the distinction that she drew between actions undertaken by an officer of the IOM in their capacity as an IOM officer, and actions undertaken by them in a personal capacity. She rightly said that the intention behind the order was that actions undertaken in that first context should be accorded immunity, but that actions undertaken in any matter of purely personal benefit should not be exempt from normal civil or criminal legal processes. How is that distinction to be drawn in practice, as it entails a serious restriction on the legal right of a British citizen who has been aggrieved and who is perhaps trying to pursue a debt to take action through the civil courts in the normal way? Is the Minister confident that a proper distinction can indeed be drawn, and that we can be certain that we are not putting our citizens at an unfair disadvantage?
4.42 pm
Gillian Merron: I thank the Committee for its brief but important consideration of the matter. In an effort to reply to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury, I will make several further comments. The order relates to the fulfilment of the UK’s obligations to a key operational partner. We are committed, as the Committee understands, to conferring those privileges and immunities and agreeing to the co-operation agreement with the IOM in July 2006 under the scope of the International Organisations Act 1968.
As the Committee has heard, the IOM remains as dedicated as ever to ensuring that the UK is able to continue effectively to deliver migration projects around the world. Although the order is procedurally a technical matter, it is still an important step in ensuring that the strong and highly effective partnership between the UK and the IOM continues to prosper. The hon. Member for Aylesbury inquired whether the order goes further than the agreement, and I can confirm that they are consistent with one another.
With regard to the question on article 8, the UK is obliged to include that in the order to implement article 9 of the co-operation agreement. It is clear that the privileges and immunities of representatives are only those that will be of benefit to the IOM and do not relate to personal benefit. The privileges and immunities of representatives can be waived by a member state. We have to give effect to the obligation but would request such a waiver through diplomatic channels, as and when necessary.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): The privileges are those accorded to the head of a diplomatic mission, but we are talking about the entire staff of the IOM. Is there a limit on the number of people who can go through Customs without having their bags searched and who have immunity from personal arrest or detention, even after they cease working for the IOM?
Gillian Merron: The order does not set a limit on those who are covered, but we are talking about 82 people currently employed by the IOM. To the best of my knowledge, we are not likely to see a major increase. In response to my hon. Friend’s query, I can assure him that all will be well in the world.
On the final question from the hon. Member for Aylesbury, if there were any doubt regarding official and non-official acts, we would negotiate to ensure that privileges and immunities were waived. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we would—how shall I put it?—err on that side.
Gillian Merron: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the order does not override such travel bans. With reference to personal acts, with which the hon. Gentleman was rightly concerned, if the matter or act were personal, no privileges or immunities would apply. I re-emphasise for the Committee’s benefit that, if in doubt, we will seek to waive the privileges and immunities, which are not given lightly. Today’s statutory instrument is intended to ensure that we are all clear about who it applies to and how it will apply to those in the IOM. With that—
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Before the Minister sits down, can she reassure the Committee that there is nothing sinister about the absence of paragraph 4.4 from the explanatory memorandum, which skips from paragraph 4.3 to paragraph 4.5, and that there is nothing that should be drawn to the Committee’s attention?
Gillian Merron: The hon. Gentleman is eagle-eyed and to be congratulated. I assure him that there is nothing sinister in the order.
Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): No doubt all my colleagues are aware of the work of the International Organization for Migration, but I confess that I am not up to speed on it. I notice that paragraph 7.6 of the explanatory memorandum states that the IMO has an office in Leeds, which is my home city. Without putting pressure on the Minister to give a detailed breakdown now of the work carried out in Leeds, can she drop me a line with the address of the office and a summary of the work that it has been doing over the past couple of years in Leeds?
Gillian Merron: My hon. Friend, as ever, is speaking up for his constituency. There is one member of staff in Leeds, so I am happy to write to my hon. Friend to confirm what they are doing. In addition to its offices in Leeds, the IOM has offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Heathrow, Liverpool, Manchester and London, and it has been in the UK since 1997.
I thank the members of the Committee for what I anticipate will be their support for the order.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008.
Committee rose at ten minutes to Five o’clock.

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