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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft European Communities (Privileges of the European School) Order 2001

Seventh Standing Committee

on Delegated Legislation

Thursday 1 November 2001

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Draft European Communities (Privileges of the European School) Order 2001

4.30 pm

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Privileges of the European School) Order 2001.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (European School) Order 2001, the draft European Communities (Immunities and Privileges of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization) Order 2001, the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization) Order 2001 and the draft Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2001.

Peter Hain: I shall briefly explain the four draft orders made under the European Communities Act 1972, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2001 made under the International Organisations Act 1968.

All five orders will confer privileges and immunities on the named international organisations in accordance with our international obligations. The four European Communities orders were laid before the House on 15 October 2001. They provide for refunds of insurance premium tax and air passenger duty to the European school at Culham in Oxfordshire and the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization in Edinburgh.

Some 34 organisations already receive relief from IPT and APD under existing legislation. The European school and the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization will bring the total to 36 organisations. Hon. Members will note that two of the draft orders are entitled ``Definition of Treaties''. Exchanges of notes have been concluded by the Government and the governors of the European school and NASCO in order amend their existing agreements, the wording of which did not allow for refunds of IPT and APD. In accordance with the European Communities Act 1972, the exchanges of notes must be declared to be Community treaties, as defined in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, so that they provide for Community obligations. That means that implementing Orders in Council can be issued.

Refunds of IPT and APD are given to meet our international obligations. It is established international practice that a state should not tax other states through the intermediary of an international organisation, and that the host state should not derive undue fiscal advantage from the presence on its soil of an international organisation. IPT is levied on buildings, household contents and vehicle insurance policies. APD is charged to all passengers departing from UK airports, irrespective of when and where their ticket was acquired. Rates vary, depending whether the destination is in or beyond the European Economic Area and depending on the class of travel. Both IPT and APD were introduced in 1994.

The draft Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2001 was laid before the House on 17 October 2001. It will enable the United Kingdom to accept and implement the agreement on privileges and immunities of the OPCW, which was signed by our ambassador in The Hague and presented to Parliament in April 2001 (Cm 5099). The draft order confers privileges and immunities on the organisation and representatives of its members, officials and experts as provided for in the OPCW agreement. Those privileges and immunities are comparable to those accorded to similar international organisations and are no more than Her Majesty's Government are obliged internationally to confer under the OPCW agreement.

Britain is a state party to the convention on the prohibition of the development, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and their destruction—normally shortened to the chemical weapons convention—which came into force on 29 April 1997 and established the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. The CWC is the first multilateral arms control agreement that aims to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction in a verifiable manner. There are now 143 states parties to the CWC.

The OPCW agreement provides, inter alia, for immunity from civil and criminal processes for representatives of states parties, officials and experts. Such matters impinge in differing degrees on the devolved responsibilities of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not Wales. Devolved Administrations are responsible for observing and implementing those international obligations of the United Kingdom that relate to their devolved responsibilities.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have been consulted, and are content that the proposed Order in Council under the International Organisations Act 1968 should extend to them. I hope that the modest and uncontroversial orders have the support of all members of the Committee, and are considered in due haste.

4.35 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. I thank the Minister for Europe for setting out the details of the orders; we are happy to support them.

I welcome the order that deals with NASCO. It will help the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, which is an excellent body set up by the previous Conservative Government. NASCO has done helpful work on the preservation of north Atlantic salmon stocks, which have suffered badly in the past 25 years and have caused much concern. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature's estimates, in the past quarter of a century, wild salmon stocks have fallen from 800,000 to 80,000. Perhaps the fashion for wild salmon in new Labour circles accounts for that—the Minister may tell me.

Catches of wild salmon are down by 75 per cent. in Baltic rivers and by 25 per cent. in British and Irish rivers. NASCO has helped to identify the causes of the decline, and has identified the reasons behind the crucial question why salmon have such poor survival rates at sea, and the difficulties that arise from salmon farming. NASCO has helped Governments to agree new guidelines on salmon farming. We welcome the order, and are pleased that national Governments must now produce action plans to reduce farm salmon escape rates dramatically.

New taxes on insurance premiums and air passenger duty have made the order necessary. The taxes did not exist when the European Communities (Immunities and Privileges of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization) Order 1985 was passed. Insurance premium tax has existed for seven years, and air passenger duty has existed for six years, so the order is timely. I was interested to learn that the Treasury will have to give funds—£2,000, I believe—to NASCO. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.

We welcome the European Communities (Privileges of the European School) Order 2001, which fulfils our Community treaty obligations to Culham school, one of the European schools that were set up for the children of European Union staff. The schools are public institutions that are controlled by the member states. The order is necessary because neither the tax on insurance premiums nor air passenger duties existed when the European Communities (Privileges of the European School) Order 1990 was passed. The taxes have existed for many years, so I am delighted that we are dealing with the matter.

We also support the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2001, which is essential to the work of that international body. We are obliged by treaty to grant such immunities and privileges. The chemical weapons convention has 143 signatories. In the light of the anthrax attacks in the United States, and Iraq's refusal to sign the convention or to admit inspectors to examine the state of its stock of chemical weapons, it is clearer than ever that the organisation must work effectively. The threat that terrorists may use chemical weapons is all too real.

We are glad that the legislation to enact the convention has received cross-party support. The previous Conservative Government helped to negotiate the convention, and signed and ratified it. The convention was accepted by the conference on disarmament in Geneva after more than 20 years of negotiations. The convention came into force in 1997. We are pleased that the Government continue to support OPCW, and we wish the organisation well in its task.

4.39 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives): The orders are uncontroversial, and we do not object to them. NASRO was set up despite the previous Government, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) pointed out, by several international organisations from Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States of America. That body provides essential support to monitor salmon stocks in the north Atlantic and if those uncontroversial measures, which support both its immunity and the refund of air passenger duty, help in the further conservation of salmon, we must support them.

Can the Minister tell me how many children attend the European school? I have read about that important body, but I wonder why children of European Union staff attend that school and not schools throughout the country. Perhaps many of them do attend such schools. None the less, there is an essential need for the school, and it would be helpful to know what the school roll is.

Article 1 of the order relating to chemical weapons states that

    ``the date shall be notified in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes.''

I am not sure whether the London Gazette is required reading in Zennor or the Isles of Scilly in my constituency. How are decisions taken about where that information is publicised, and why is that information published only in those gazettes? I hope that the orders proceed speedily.

4.42 pm

 
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