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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft International Maritime Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2002

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 17 June 2002

[Sir Alan Hurst in the Chair]

Draft International Maritime Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2002

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft International Maritime Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2002.

This order was laid before the House on 23 May 2002, together with an explanatory memorandum now required for all affirmative statutory instruments. It confers full diplomatic privileges and immunities on the permanent representatives, or acting permanent representatives, of the member states of the International Maritime Organisation and on the holders of five posts at divisional director level. Members of their families forming part of their households will enjoy the same privileges and immunities.

The draft order is the culmination of a lengthy dialogue with the IMO, which is the only specialised agency of the United Nations based in this country. It brings the United Kingdom into step with accepted practice for UN specialised agencies based elsewhere in the world, and will allow senior representatives and officials at the IMO to enjoy the same status as they would enjoy if they were attached to UN specialised agencies in, for example, Paris, Geneva, Vienna or Rome.

The IMO is an important international body that plays an invaluable role in the promotion of safety of life at sea and the prevention of pollution from ships. All major shipping nations are members of the IMO, and we are pleased and honoured to have the IMO headquarters in London. We should accord the senior representatives and officials of the IMO the status that is internationally recognised as appropriate for them to carry out their duties effectively.

I have set out in the explanatory memorandum, which was laid before the House, the legal basis for the order and the legislative context and existing legal position. The order will enable the Government to give effect to the agreement contained in an exchange of notes with the IMO—command paper 5473—and to accept the revised annex XII to the convention on the privileges and immunities of the specialised agencies of the United Nations, which was approved by the IMO assembly on 22 November 2001—command paper 5474.

The order also consolidates and updates five previous orders that were made under the International Organisations Act 1968, which are revoked. Those orders are listed in the schedule to the present order.

Column Number: 4

I am satisfied that the order is compatible with the rights contained in the European convention on human rights. I commend the order to the Committee, and trust that it will have the support of all hon. Members.

4.33 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): This being the first occasion on which I have served in a Committee that you have chaired, Mr. Hurst, I welcome you to the Chair and thank you for chairing our proceedings.

Shipping is by its very nature an international trade and an international issue. It is also sometimes a very dangerous trade. It is important that safety assumes a high priority. To be effective, safety regulations must be international: they must be common to all shipping nations setting basic minimum standards. The IMO fulfils that important role in co-ordinating and framing such international rules.

I shall keep my speech brief, as we are largely in agreement with the Government on this matter, and aside from a short comment on the IMO and its work and a couple of simple questions, I do not propose to detain the Committee for long.

In 1948, an international conference in Geneva—a place well known to the Minister—agreed to a convention establishing what is now called the International Maritime Organisation to achieve better safety through the encouragement and setting of safety standards, and to take moves to control the risks of pollution from maritime activity. Much progress has been made since it adopted the 1960 international convention for safety of life at sea, which was in itself an important step forward. It has also worked on other important areas, such as the carriage of dangerous goods and load lines, and its efforts have all been designed to increase safety.

Pollution is now an equally important issue in the IMO's work, as it transcends international borders—and so must the discussions and regulations designed to counter it. More recently, the IMO has turned its attention to the dangers of marine terrorism and the need to counter such activity via international discourse and procedures. Safety is important, so we must be tough on terrorism, which threatens everyone's safety. It is vital that we adopt a tough line. The IMO is at the forefront of that effort, as it has been in the work to increase safety and to tackle the threat of pollution. I pay tribute to its achievements and to its staff.

Better co-ordination is highly desirable. The IMO does an important job, which involves much diplomatic activity and to-ing and fro-ing. It is in our interests, and those of every seafaring nation and countless sailors and passengers, to facilitate this work. The provisions in this statutory instrument will contribute to that goal.

I understand that the United Kingdom has signed up to these changes, pending our approval today, and that many of the permanent representatives already enjoy full diplomatic status as they are accredited to existing national missions in the UK.

Column Number: 5

We have no objection to the changes proposed for the status of the five IMO officers referred to in part 4 of the order. I hope that the order will help to formalise arrangements for those diplomats and officers.

However, I have a few points of clarification to put to the Minister. First, how many people, apart from those five officers, could the order cover? More to the point, how many people who do not already enjoy full diplomatic immunity via their membership of an existing legation will it extend to?

Secondly, what has changed that has necessitated this alteration to the convention, and therefore the additional privileges and immunities before us? Will the Minister explain why this is being done?

Thirdly, will the Minister quantify the minimal costs to the Exchequer—''minimal'' is the word used in the explanatory memorandum—that would result from the lost tax revenue? Fourthly, will the Minister outline what form the consultation on this statutory instrument with Scotland and Northern Ireland took?

Clearly, the Minister agrees with the old saying, ''Everyone loves a sailor.'' We agree with him, and we will support him, subject to the clarification of those four small points.

4.37 pm

Mr. MacShane: I also welcome you to the chairmanship of the Committee, Mr. Hurst. I thank the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) for the kind reference to Geneva. I certainly did not enjoy any diplomatic immunity or privilege when I worked there.

Column Number: 6

The change that we are proposing will extend diplomatic immunities and privileges to five senior officials of the IMO. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the majority of the other people accredited to the organisation already have diplomatic immunity by virtue of the fact that they work for embassies or in diplomatic posts in London. It was at the IMO's request that this diplomatic immunity was extended to its officials and other diplomats and senior officials of organisations that have UN specialised agency status and travel freely about the world. A further two people are accredited only to the IMO, so they do not have status separately by virtue of being on the diplomatic staff of an embassy. Therefore, a total of seven people will now have this diplomatic immunity.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Will the Minister confirm which countries those two additional accredited persons come from?

Mr. MacShane: I understand that one of them is North Korea, and my officials are about to hand me the name of the other. It is Liberia.

The loss of revenue to the Exchequer will have to be calculated accordingly to the tax that a senior ranking UN official would pay in the UK, plus whatever representatives from North Korea and Liberia might pay.

I am happy to write to hon. Members with detailed answers to the points raised.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft International Maritime Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2002.

Committee rose at twenty minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hurst, Mr. Alan (Chairman)
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Cameron, Mr.
Caplin, Mr.
Carmichael, Mr.
Drown, Julia
Duncan, Mr. Alan
Fisher, Mr.
MacShane, Mr.
Mole, Chris
Moore, Mr.
Pickthall, Mr.
Simon, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl (Chesham and Amersham)
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen (Eddisbury)


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Prepared 17 June 2002