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European Organization for Nuclear Research (Privileges and Immunities) Order 2006

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Privileges and Immunities) Order 2006.

The noble Lord said: This 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 will confer legal capacities of a body corporate and privileges and immunities on the European Organization 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 Organization for Nuclear Research, which was signed on behalf of the United Kingdom on 18 March 2004.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research—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 Organization for Nuclear Research (Cm 928) on 29 September 1954. United Kingdom ratification was deposited on30 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.

CERN is funded by 20 member states, with the United Kingdom contributing £80 million, which amounts to 20 per cent of the total budget. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council lead on policy at official level.

The 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 Organization for Nuclear Research.

I am satisfied that the order is compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.

This order is important. I trust that it is non-controversial. I hope that it will receive the full support of Members of the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Privileges and Immunities) Order 2006.—(Lord Triesman.)

I note the active interest in this regulation by the Conservative Opposition, so I rise to represent, I suppose, both parties, and to raise a number of general questions.

I am a little puzzled. I know CERN relatively well: my daughter’s partner worked there for his PhD. As I understand it, it is only 52 years since CERN first began its activities. I am not entirely clear why it was necessary to add these additional powers after exactly 50 years.

When the matter was considered in the Eighth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation in other place, my colleague Jeremy Browne said—as I would have wished to say myself—that,

“we have to be extremely cautious about the continued extension of diplomatic privileges…Obviously, there will be a degree of unease in any open, democratic society about their being too widely available”.

The Minister will recall that I have raised this issue on previous occasions. I recall that on 28 November 2005, when we previously discussed these points, the Minister informed us that there had been a number of meetings of the EU Protocol Working Group, including a meeting of the EU Heads of Protocol, which had set in train under the UK presidency the first stages of a review on the future granting of immunities and privileges in the EU. I assume that that also covers broader European organisations such as CERN. What progress has been made with this? When might we expect a conclusion? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the proliferation of European agencies does not simply add to the proliferation of tax-exempt and other forms of exempt bodies littered around an increasingly open social, economic and political space?

While I am being picky, why is there no clause here on geographical extent? On previous occasions we have had the usual idiotic clause on whether or not the provision applies to the Isle of Man, Jersey or Guernsey. On this occasion that does not even appear. Will the Minister please explain why that is?

I start with the general review of diplomatic privileges and immunities. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, knows that my own view is that a review, while it will unquestionably take time and will probably have to go into a lot of detail, is none the less worth while. I have maintained that view on a number of occasions and the noble Lord will be familiar with my reasons for doing so. There needs to be a very good explanation of why so many people enjoy special privileges of one kind or another, or we risk people perceiving different classes of individuals in the European Community, as widely defined. That will lead many to feel greater suspicion than they should normally have.

I am afraid that progress on that matter has been somewhat slow, but that is not to say that it is not taking place. It is slow partly because a significant number of organisations now need to be reviewed, and are being reviewed by a large number of nation states. Indeed, the number of nation states in the European Union will increase again in the very near future. This is probably the first occasion on which many of those states have applied themselves to these questions. Therefore, I am afraid that, if we want to be as inclusive as we desire, the process will take time. That is a pity but I do not want to overstress the matter because the intention is to complete a review, and that will happen. Even if I cannot give a terminating date, there is a desire to see this work completed. I intend to let everyone know the relevant date as soon as I can.

As regards geographical extent, the order is being reviewed by the JCSI and a geographical clause has been deemed not to be necessary. I do not have access to the thinking behind that, but I will write to the noble Lord with the reason that the committee has given for that. I have no doubt that it will be substantive, because the committee will have thought about the matter in appropriate detail.

The more substantive point concerns why the order is now required. The United Kingdom signed the protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research on 18 March 2004. That protocol legally obliged the United Kingdom to confer legal capacity, privileges and immunities on CERN. Like the noble Lord, I also know the organisation well because of its level of celebrity and importance in academic life generally.

The intention is to confer privileges and immunities on specific categories of individuals connected with the organisation, an undertaking we made in 2004 despite the fact that CERN goes back very much further. This tidies up the process. Apart from conferring the usual privileges and immunities on the employees of CERN, the protocol will also allow CERN to buy high-cost scientific equipment from different countries without incurring the usual import and export duties, so it also tidies up that matter. I hope that that is the explanation sought by the noble Lord. As I have said, I will make sure that the thinking of the JCSI on the other particular detail is conveyed to him. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.