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International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008

Volume 705: debated on Monday 17 November 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: The draft order will confer the legal capacities of a body corporate and privileges and immunities upon the International Organisation for Migration—the IOM. The draft order also confers privileges and immunities on representatives of the states parties, the director-general and officials of the organisation. These privileges and immunities are conferred in accordance with the co-operation agreement with the IOM which was signed on behalf of the United Kingdom on 6 July 2006.

The co-operation agreement between the UK and the IOM is similar to other agreements entered into by the UK with other international organisations having their headquarters or other offices in the UK—for example the International Maritime Organisation, the Commonwealth Secretariat or the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. By conferring on the IOM the legal capacity of a body corporate, the order allows the IOM to have the legal capacity of a body corporate to assist with its day-to-day dealings in the UK—for example, to contract, acquire and dispose of immovable and moveable property and to institute legal proceedings.

The privileges and immunities to be accorded to the IOM and specified categories of individuals connected with the organisation are similar to those routinely granted to this type of international organisation with offices in the UK. The provisions in the order have been closely scrutinised by the relevant departments, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and have been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Merits Committee of this House. The privileges and immunities to be accorded to the IOM are the minimum necessary to enable the organisation to function effectively in the UK.

Noble Lords may have an interest in the extension of immunity from being sued and legal process to staff working for the IOM. I draw their attention to Article 10(1)(a) of the order, which limits the immunity for all IOM staff, except the Head of Office, to,

“acts 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 Organisation and the complete independence of the persons to whom they are accorded. They are not granted for the personal benefit of the individuals concerned”.

Noble Lords will wish to be aware that the total number of IOM staff in the UK is currently 82. The order being considered today therefore does not provide a large increase in the number of individuals enjoying privileges and immunities in the UK, which is currently around 24,000.

The order also exempts the IOM and its staff from certain taxes; for example, income tax. Again, this is a normal provision with such orders, as exemption from taxation is based on the principle that no member state of such an international organisation should derive undue fiscal benefit from the funds subscribed to the organisation by all its members. Taxation of the IOM, or its staff salaries, would run counter to that general principle.

Managed migration remains a key priority for the Government at home and overseas. The global environment is challenging: there are 200 million migrants worldwide, and the number is increasing. Our task is to make migration work 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 illegally.

The IOM is headquartered in Geneva. It was founded in 1951 as an intergovernmental organisation to resettle European displaced persons, refugees and migrants. Its mission now is no less important than it was then—to ensure that those forced from their countries by the horror of war can be provided with immediate practical solutions, humanitarian assistance and resettlement or return.

The IOM currently has 125 member states, with a further 16 states and 74 international and non-governmental organisations holding observer status. It has offices and operations on every continent, with 5,600 staff members serving in more than 400 field locations in more than 100 countries. It 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.

What does the IOM do for us? In close partnership with the FCO, 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 in the wider international context. For example, it has been essential in developing and delivering the Government’s assisted voluntary return programmes. Since 1999, these programmes have enabled the return to their countries of origin of over 18,000 failed asylum seekers, and of over 2,600 illegal migrants since 2004. It has supported capacity-building 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. This UK Border Agency programme has returned over 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, working with the UNHCR, the UK Government accept and resettle refugees from camps abroad. It delivers the logistics of the programme, including medical screening, documentation and transportation. The organisation has also provided emergency assistance to vulnerable populations in Zimbabwe; information campaigns to prevent irregular migration in Afghanistan; enhanced border-control capacity in Cambodia; and emergency shelter and non-food item projects—such as clothing, bedding and household items and medical kit—in Burma in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

The IOM is funded through contributions from member states. We contributed around $55 million in 2007 for operational programmes and approximately £1.35 million as our assessed contribution to IOM’s core budget, which is its administrative budget.

The order will allow the UK to comply with its international obligations in giving full effect to the privileges and immunities agreed in the co-operation agreement of which I spoke. This will enable the IOM to continue to develop its strong partnership with the UK. We are satisfied that the order is compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, and I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008. 30th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bach.)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for that clear exposition of the order but perhaps he could underline one point. In his introduction he made it clear that the order is intended to offer immunities and privileges only to IOM members based here in the United Kingdom for acts that are done, as he put it, in accordance with their proper duties, and that it is not intended for the personal benefit of individuals. The order does not offer the same sort of cover in terms of immunities as that enjoyed by full-scale diplomats based in the United Kingdom. I therefore take it that the order extends only to the 82 individuals working for the organisation here and not to members of their families or any others.

The Minister said that some 125 countries are members of the IOM, but he thought that more might join in due course. Is it likely that the number of people employed by the IOM in the United Kingdom will increase over the years, or will it remain at a relatively small figure for the foreseeable future?

This order takes me back to a Bill on international organisations that we considered in 2004—the first Bill that I was involved with. I should declare an interest, though I do not believe that it gives rise to a conflict of interest here. I was an officer of the staff association of the Commonwealth Secretariat, one of the organisations which the Minister mentioned in his explanation.

I have absolutely no qualms about our membership of the International Organisation for Migration or doubts about its usefulness or ability to resolve several areas of interest to us as a country. I was extremely pleased that we rejoined the organisation in 2001. My problem with introducing such statutory instruments is the plethora of international organisations granted this status. The Minister said that we routinely grant this status, and he is right; new organisations come along and we just grant it.

I should like to say a word or two about privileges and immunities.

There is a Division in the Chamber. The Committee therefore stands adjourned for 10 minutes.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 3.52 to 4.02 pm.]

As I was saying before the Division interrupted me in full flow, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said that these privileges and immunities are granted routinely. In my experience, however, they are not routine. As employees of such organisations are often exempt from UK legislation, their working rights are severely diminished because they work for international bodies. Their rights and entitlements are different from those of their neighbours, the people they come to work with and live alongside. I find it extraordinary. Employees of these organisations cannot understand why the laws of the country in which they live do not apply to them and why they have lesser entitlements than others. The Minister commented on the rather generous contributions that we give to this organisation to cover operational and other core costs. Can he give a mild assurance that the Government will at least seek, through their membership of the board and their financial contributions, assurances that employment standards at the organisation will be maintained, or that there will be an attempt to bring employment standards into line with those to which we as citizens of the United Kingdom are entitled?

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, queried whether all 82 individuals will be entitled to these privileges, in particular an entitlement not to pay tax—I would argue that probably not all 82 will be entitled to it because it would apply to diplomatic status at a senior level—but can the Minister say whether only high officials of the organisation will be entitled to full diplomatic status and privileges, or all 82? If all 82 are entitled, that will have, if nothing else, a deleterious effect on the Exchequer.

I thank both noble Lords for their contributions. There is nothing unusual about what we are doing as far as the IOM is concerned. The representatives who would come from another country to work at the IOM and the head of mission here are given status comparable with what could be described as that of a diplomatic agent. They enjoy most personal immunity and diplomatic privileges, but other members of the organisation have immunity only in respect of their official acts, so there is a distinction. That limited immunity includes exemption from UK tax for all 82. On the principle that I outlined when introducing the order, a member country such as ours should not have the advantage of gaining membership money—which is what, if they had to pay tax, it would be—from those employed by it.

There is no immunity from criminal offences. In answer to a question that has not been asked, people would have to pay the congestion charge and would be liable for parking offences if they ever breached parking regulations, which I am sure they would not.

I hope that that answers the questions. I take the noble Baroness’s point; she has great experience in this field. But the good news is that this organisation does an excellent job. We are proud to be members of it, and the order simply confirms what the agreement of 2006 suggested.

On Question, Motion agreed to.