§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 4, line 4, after 'master', insert 'or commander'.
§ Mr. Speaker
As is my custom, I have had posted notice of the Amendments that I have selected on consideration. With this Amendment we can discuss the following Amendments: Amendment No. 2, in page 4, line 5, after 'ship', insert 'or aircraft'; Amendment No. 5, in Clause 5, page 4, line 24, after 'port', insert 'or airport'; Amendment No. 6, in line 24, after 'sea', insert 'or in the air'.
§ Mr. Rodgers
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) will remember that in Committee he and other hon. Members raised the question of aircraft. At that time I opposed an Amendment to Clause 4 extending the provision to aircraft. I said that the same problems did not arise in the case of aircraft as in the case of ships and that it was questionable whether they would ever do so. I pointed out in particular that under our law aircraft, unlike ships, could not be arrested for a wage claim and that crew members of aircraft were not usually away from their posts for long enough to make it worth while for them to attempt to bring proceedings in a foreign court. As there did not seem to be any problem, I did not think there was a case for amending Clause 4 to include aircraft. I continue to think that these reasons are cogent, but since I spoke in Committee a new factor has been brought to my attention.
Two of our consular Conventions—the Convention with Poland and the Con- 1844 vention with Bulgaria—contain provisions which affect the issue. These two Conventions, which were signed on 23rd February, 1967, and on 13th March last, respectively, have not yet been brought into force. It is our normal policy—and this would follow what I said in Committee—to resist proposals by other States for the inclusion of provisions on civil aviation in consular Conventions. This is because consuls have few established functions in this sphere, and, in our view, questions relating to aircraft are best regulated by special arrangements on civil aviation, whether they be bilateral or multilateral. In some instances, however—and this is the important point—we have agreed to the inclusion in a consular Convention of an article extending the provisions on merchant shipping to cover civil aviation also. Where this has been done, the object of the concession was to obtain more satisfactory provisions on other matters, including, in particular, merchant shipping.
We see no objection to the extension of these civil jurisdiction provisions to aircraft, although from our point of view, for the reasons which I have already given, we think that the extension is unnecessary.
Both the Conventions with Poland and Bulgaria contain an article dealing with civil but not with criminal jurisdiction over ships. I think that this is an important and relevant point. Both also contain an article extending the shipping articles to cover aircraft.
It is arguable that the provisions in question do not effectively apply in relation to civil aircraft since they refer to disputes between the master and members of the crew of a ship. The commander of an aircraft, unlike the master of a ship, cannot be sued as the representative of the owners. The intention of the policy is to cover, in the case of ships, all disputes over wages and contracts of service and a clearer form of wording has been worked out for future Conventions. It is, therefore, desirable to take the necessary powers now in case we should find it expedient to make the shipping provisions of some future Conventions applicable to civil aircraft.
I must apologise, in this rather complicated matter, that these Amendments 1845 were riot made in Committee, which would have been the appropriate time. The two Amendments which I have proposed in Clause 16, involving the insertion of a reference to aircraft, are consequential to the Amendments proposed to Clause 4, and it is unnecessary to add anything further on that.
I was not quite clear, Mr. Speaker, from what you said at the beginning of our proceedings, whether you were—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I neglected to say that with these Amendments we shall also take Amendment 9, in Clause 16, page 8, line 41, at end insert:and, for the purposes of section 4 an aircraft,and Amendment 10, in page 8, line 45, at end add "or aircraft". I hope that helps the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Rodgers
I am grateful for that helpful intervention. I think that what I have already said covers Clause 16, to which Amendments 9 and 10 relate, so I will rest my case at that point.
§ Mr. Speaker
Again I remind the House that with this Amendment we are taking Amendments 2, 5, 6, 9 and 10.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am glad that the Minister has put in these Amendments. As the Under-Secretary said, it would have been much easier had we been able to discuss them in Committee, but I understand the reasons why he was not then able to put them in.
From what the hon. Gentleman has said and from correspondence which he kindly sent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), I gather that these Amendments have been put in essentially to enable the British negotiators to obtain quid pro quos in their negotiations for the AngloPolish and Anglo-Bulgarian bilateral Conventions which have now been agreed. I am sure that they are very sensible. They improve both these Conventions and we support the Amendments.
I find it a little strange that the hon. Gentleman has yielded to the blandishments of either the Foreign Office negotiators or the representatives of Bulgaria 1846 and Poland whereas he refused to yield to the blandishments of this side in Committee. While welcoming the Amendments which he has put down, we had expected him to carry logic further and accept the changes which we have proposed elsewhere in the Bill.
Our purpose in suggesting that powers should be taken to include aircraft is simply to extend the area in which consuls are safeguarded in the execution of their consular work to aircraft and airports instead of confining it under the Bill to ships and maritime harbours. It is worth underlining the reasons. More and more people are travelling by air. Those coming to Britain by aircraft now easily outnumber those coming by sea. Aircraft are increasing in size, and we shall shortly have the enormous Jumbo jets. As a matter of statistical probability, there are much more likely to be incidents or offences at airports or in and around aircraft which concern consuls than in ships themselves. Aircraft involve tens of millions, whereas ships today involve only hundreds of thousands.
In addition, aircraft now carry a much larger proportion of the items in which consuls are likely to be interested. They carry the diplomatic bags. They carry gold. Not many days ago, a great deal of gold was carried to this country by air. More and more, we are finding, and shall find, incidents involving consuls at airports and concerning aircraft. There was the case of the Soviet diplomat, Mr. Kravchenko, who was carried on board a Soviet aircraft at London Airport. There was the gold smuggling case involving aircraft of B.O.A.C. There was the case of Mr. Soblen, the American who jumped bail and was then brought back en route to America to London Airport, where a great deal of consular argument took place. There have been a number of difficult problems involving immigration and sabotage in each of which consuls have been asked to intervene.
I put it to the Minister that, if his logic is right, if he has been prevailed upon by the Poles, the Bulgarians or his own negotiators to amend Clause 4 in the way proposed, it is reasonable that, almost consequentially, the argument should be carried into the other Clauses. Aircraft today are just as relevant—indeed more relevant—to the functions of a consul than are just ships and harbours. 1847 Therefore, in welcoming the Government Amendments, I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept the logic of including Amendments 5 and 6.
§ Mr. William Rodgers
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffith) suggested that I had responded to the blandishments either of the Foreign Office or of the Poles and Bulgarians. This is not altogether true. I have not responded to their blandishments, but I have considered the issue afresh, as it were. I am afraid that I cannot respond to the hon. Gentleman's blandishments and advise the House to accept the Opposition Amendments.
In speaking to the Government Amendments, I emphasised that we were dealing with civil proceedings affecting crews. The Amendments put down by hon. Members opposite come into a different category, affecting criminal proceedings and other disciplinary offences. That is a very good reason for not treating them on the same basis as Clause 4 and not responding to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.
I have considered the matter most carefully since we discussed it in Committee. I felt then that perhaps I had not carried the hon. Gentleman with me or necessarily made wholly clear the distinction between Clause 4 and Clauses 5 and 6. Because there is a very important difference, and because, as I explained, there are special circumstances which led us to propose an Amendment to Clause 4, I ask the House not to make an Amendment to Clauses 5 and 6.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: No. 2, in page 4, line 5. after 'ship', insert 'or aircraft'.—[Mr. William Rodgers.]