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Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 2009

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 27 January 2009

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 2009.

Relevant document: 30th report, Session 2007–08, from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

With this order, I shall also speak to the subsequent two draft orders, which were laid before the House on 23 October 2008 together with a joint Explanatory Memorandum. These three orders collectively give effect to certain provisions of three status of forces agreements (SOFAs) to which the United Kingdom is a party. They are the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Status of Forces Agreement (NATO SOFA), the NATO Partnership for Peace Status of Forces Agreement (PfP SOFA) and the European Union Status of Forces Agreement (EU SOFA).

What is a status of forces agreement? SOFAs establish the status of military and civilian personnel originating from one country when they are located in the territory of another country. They also provide for the status of military headquarters established in other countries. The status, privileges and immunities conferred on military and civilian personnel by the draft orders are no greater in extent than those required by the relevant SOFA, or the established custom and practice, to enable either NATO or the EU and specified individuals connected with those organisations to function effectively.

The NATO SOFA effectively has primacy. The PfP SOFA extends the NATO SOFA to all the states that have accepted the invitation to participate in the Partnership for Peace. The EU SOFA comes into force only once it has been ratified by all the EU member states and only applies in so far as the status of their forces is not regulated by the NATO or PfP SOFA.

What do the orders do? The first order, the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 2009, amends the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) Order 1999 to include Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Ireland, Montenegro, Serbia and Tajikistan in the list of visiting forces countries. It also updates the list of headquarters to which the 1999 order applies. For example, the NATO Headquarters for Allied Naval Forces North Western Europe, which is known as NAVNORTHWEST, has been renamed as the Maritime Component Command Headquarters Northwood, or CC-MAR HQ Northwood. The effect of this order is to ensure that various laws apply to visiting forces and international headquarters in the same way as they apply to our domestic Armed Forces.

The second order, the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2009, provides for the amendment of the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) Order 1965. It updates the list of headquarters to which the 1965 order applies. The 1965 order provides for the inviolability of the official archives of international headquarters that have a presence in the United Kingdom. In respect of some of those headquarters, the 1965 order also confers legal capacity and provides for immunity from legal process that involves the seizure of any funds or property.

The third order, the European Union Military Staff (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2009, confers privileges and immunities on the European Union and its military staff, principally that staff shall enjoy immunity from suit and legal process in respect of things done or omitted to be done in the course of the performance of official duties. It also provides that the official archives of the EU military staff and the EU are inviolable, in the same way that the archives of diplomatic missions are inviolable under the Vienna convention of 1961.

Once these orders have been made, Her Majesty’s Government will notify the Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union under Article 19(2) that they have completed their constitutional procedures for the ratification of the EU SOFA. There are no further notification requirements in respect of the NATO and PfP SOFAs. The orders simply bring the list of countries and headquarters up to date.

The provisions of these orders extend to the United Kingdom. In their extent to Scotland they apply only so far as they relate to a reserved matter within the meaning of Section 29(2)(b) of the Scotland Act 1998.

These orders will allow the United Kingdom to comply with its international obligations in giving full effect to the privileges and immunities that were agreed in the SOFA agreements and will allow the UK to continue to develop the strong partnership that it has with these organisations.

The Minister for the Armed Forces and the Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were both satisfied that these orders are compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. They are important orders, which I hope will receive the support of noble Lords. I beg to move.

I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bach, back to defence issues, which I well remember him dealing with in the past. The issues raised by the orders have been covered in detail in the other place by my honourable friend the MP for Westbury, who set out our reservations about the European Union Military Staff (Immunities and Privileges) Order. I share his concerns but will not detain your Lordships by repeating them this afternoon. The other two orders are uncontroversial.

As far as we are concerned, these orders are updating, functional, practical and necessary. We are happy to support them.

Apart from thanking both noble Lords for their contributions and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for his kind remarks, I commend the orders to the Committee.

Motion agreed.