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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for her detailed introduction to the Bill. This afternoon's short debate has been constructive and informative.
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There is no doubt that closer co-operation through international organisations can help all the people involved in working towards meeting the challenges that we face today. We would support "mutual recognition" here rather than straight harmonisation. More importantly, we on these Benches will continue to work to ensure that within these various organisations, particularly the European ones, measures that undermine civil liberties are not extended.
We want to ensure that all the organisations and their members remain accountable for their actions. Therefore, while the Minister described the Bill as a relatively small and technical one, we shall still study all the proposed changes with great care, as she would expect.
I am afraid that today, unlike yesterday, I have many questions to which of course I do not expect an immediate answer. Having looked at the agreements referred to in the Explanatory Notes, I see that the most recent one appears to have been in relation to the International Criminal Court in 2002, as referred to in Clause 6. The noble Baroness stated that the Government are committed to providing these immunities and privileges to the specified organisations, their members, their members' families and their members' households, but that they have not had the mechanism to do so until this Bill. In the light of that, and as it is simply a "technical Bill", my first question is: why have the Government waited so long to bring it forward?
In relation to the immunities and privileges that may be awarded to bodies established under the Treaty on European Union, can the Minister, before the next stage, provide the House with a full list of the bodies to which the Bill will apply? I understand that so far the Library has been unable to find a comprehensive list of these second and third pillar European bodies.
In relation to Clause 5, I want to highlight a point that has been made before by the European Scrutiny Committee. Can the Minister explain the legal basis for conferring the privileges and immunities of the European Communities on EU bodies when the EU itself does not enjoy a legal personality? This issue has been raised by the House of Lords European Union Committee as well as by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee. For example, I understand from the Scrutiny Committee report that the Government wish to make the European Police College a body that will fall into this category. Can the noble Baroness inform the House whether the Government have responded to the specific questions raised by the European Scrutiny Committee and explain the effect that these orders, which were discussed last Thursday, might have on the issue?
Will the noble Baroness also assure the House that the powers provided in this Bill will not allow the Government to act in anticipation of the decision of Parliament on the EU Constitutional Treaty and any bodies that will flow from that?
Throughout the Bill, immunities and privileges are granted not only to the people concerned but also to various family members and members of their
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households. Will the Minister inform the House why that does not include civil partners, as recently enacted? We will also be looking to ensure that these immunities and privileges are limited to those recommended in the agreements; for example, with regard to the International Criminal Court, they will have privileges only in regard to customs and quick repatriation in times of crisis. I hope there is no possibility of British taxpayers subsidising shopping trips for members of these organisations and their spouses. Will the noble Baroness give a categorical assurance to Parliament that that cannot, and will not, happen under this Bill?
Clause 4 of the Bill deals with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which I understand includes among its members some states such as Belarus, whose record on human rights leaves much to be desired. Does the noble Baroness agree that we must be careful about giving immunities and privileges to the ruling elite of such countries, notwithstanding the signal that that gives out to those struggling, even as we speak, against anti-democratic regimes?
In the light of Article 1 of the Sixth Protocol, I understand we signed a reservation when we agreed the ECHR overall. Can the noble Baroness confirm that this reservation was included in the instrument of ratification deposited in November 2001 and that that was reaffirmed in 2003 in respect of the Isle of Man? Will the Minister please explain to the House what has happened to that reservation? Is it now changing? Why, if it is so important, was it not dealt with earlier? Will she ask the Joint Committee on Human Rights to report on this issue while the Bill is in this House? That would be in line with the committee's expressed duty to do so on all human rights treaties or amendments to such treaties.
I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that the Joint Committee on Human Rights report will help to inform the debate, but it will not be much use once the opportunity to discuss it has passed. Can the noble Baroness also explain how tax immunities for judges of the European Court of Human Rights sit alongside Her Majesty's Government's domestic plans for judicial pensions? What exactly will the tax immunities be and how far will they extend? Will they cover, for example, share portfolios?
We shall be looking for further clarification on monetary immunities and privileges in Committee. Some have questioned why, when we have already waited so long to implement these changes, we should choose to implement them now, regardless of how low the cost is said to be. The country is already so highly taxed, with 66 new stealth taxes introduced since 1997.
It has been suggested that there are some concerns for the human rights of employees who work in the Commonwealth Secretariat as regards transparency and their ability to air grievances, and the accountability of the organisation should employees be made immune from the British court system. Will the noble Baroness please comment on that issue and reassure the House that that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights?
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I cannot end without a brief word on the excellent contribution of my noble friend Lord Moynihan. I fully support his views on sport. In international terms, sport is vital in so many ways for our country and for its inhabitants, although this is not the right occasion to debate that.
I have outlined some of our concerns on which we shall wish to seek detailed assurances and clarification during the progress of this Bill. We on these Benches have expressed reservations about aspects of the International Criminal Court and European bodies. Those are well known. Against that background, we intend to carry out our role as the scrutinising upper House to ensure that this legislation meets the agreements upon which it is based and no more.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I welcome the broad support of the House for this "useful" Bill, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, described it. I am sorry to disappoint him, but the International Criminal Court is quite distinct from the International Cricket Council. My ICC is not based here either. As he is well aware, it is based in the Hague. His ICC has a number of issues to discuss with my right honourable and honourable friends in the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but not in relation to this Bill.
I applaud the noble Lord's ingenuity, but his speech really concerned keeping the ICC and other sporting organisations based in London. His argument is that we should use the Bill to improve the financial climate for those organisations to continue to operate in this country. I understand the connection very well. Perhaps I may say why, on this occasion, we shall not be taking his advice about using the Bill as a vehicle for that objective.
The International Organisations Act 1968 concerns only organisations of which the United Kingdom as a state is a member, or organisations of which other sovereign states are members. States are not usually members of international sporting organisations. Therefore, such organisations are outside the scope of the 1968 Act. It would be inappropriatethat is the kindest word I can useto extend the Act to those sporting occasions. I am sure that we all give the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, full marks, as always, for very good bowling, even if on this occasion he did not claim a wicket.
I turn to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, on the Commonwealth Secretariat. By conferring on the Commonwealth Secretariat extended immunity from the jurisdiction of UK courts, the Bill does nothing more than bring the immunities of the Commonwealth Secretariat into line with the treatment accorded a number of international organisations based in the United Kingdom and abroad. The noble Baroness tried to argue that the Commonwealth Secretariat was different. All these organisations are different; all of them are unique in their own way. However, it is important that we try to bring them into line with each other and do not try to
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single out individual ones for certain treatment, particularly in the way that the noble Baroness suggested.
On the issue of whether UK law applies in general, we would expect international organisations based in the United Kingdom to comply with our domestic laws and regulations as a matter of policy, regardless of immunity from the jurisdiction of the UK courts that they enjoy. I do not accept that the Bill dilutes the rights of the employees of the Commonwealth Secretariat in the way described by the noble Baroness. Far less do I accept her claim that it is a diminution of human rights.
The noble Baroness produced a number of arguments about the CSAT. In my opening remarks I pointed out that the CSAT is an internal arbitration mechanism, established in 1995. It was established to resolve contractual disputes, once a party has exhausted any other remedies available to the secretariat, and that includes staff grievance procedures. None of that excludes any of the points raised by the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness also asked about the bodies covered by Clause 5. I endeavoured to give examples of those in my opening remarks, but on this occasion my usual rapid rate of delivery may have been a little too speedy. Let me reiterate. The first example is ATHENA, which is the mechanism which enables member states quickly to contribute towards financing EU military peacekeeping missions. Of course, EU moneys cannot be used for that purpose unless it is specifically decided that it should be. Secondly, the satellite centre provides imagery analysis and helps us to monitor crises worldwide. There is also the Institute for Security Studies which adds academic analysis and strategic thinking to the way we are able to develop our CFSP.
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