Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Tuesday 27 April 1993


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Ainsworth, Mr. Robert (Coventry North-East)

Body, Sir Richard (Holland with Boston)

Bruce, Mr. Malcolm (Gordon)

Byers, Mr. Stephen (Wallsend)

Coffey, Ms. Ann (Stockport)

Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow)

Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl (Chesham and Amersham)

Greenway, Mr. Harry (Ealing, North)

Gunnell, Mr. John (Morley and Leeds, South)

Harris, Mr. David (St. Ives)

Heath, Sir Edward (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

Heppell, Mr. John (Nottingham, East)

Hughes, Mr. Robert G. (Harrow, West)

Lennox-Boyd, Mr. Mark (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Nicholson, Mr. David (Taunton)

Richards, Mr. Rod (Clwyd, North-West)

Rogers, Mr. Allan (Rhondda)

Sumberg, Mr. David (Bury South)

Dr. P. C. Seaward, Committee Clerk

3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 27 April 1993

[MR. MARTYN JONES in the Chair]

Draft Treaty on Open Skies (Privileges and Immunities) Order 1993

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Treaty on Open Skies (Privileges and Immunities) Order 1993. The purpose of the order is to confer certain privileges and immunities on personnel carrying out observation flights in the United Kingdom, in accordance with the provisions of the treaty on open skies. That treaty is a general purpose, aerial observation regime. Although it is not linked formally to any arms control agreement, it will facilitate the monitoring of, and compliance with, existing agreements, and further their objectives. It will also be a useful tool in conflict prevention and crisis monitoring. The treaty on open skies was signed in Helsinki on 24 March last year by 16 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies. It will enter into force 60 days after at least 20 states have ratified it. Those states must include the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey and Ukraine. I wish to make a few points about the observation flights for which this order gives immunity to the participants. Each state party has agreed to receive a maximum number of observation flights each year. That number is known as the passive quota. The United Kingdom has agreed a passive inspection quota of 12 flights, as have France, Germany and Italy. However, for a phasing-in period of three years, the signatories will accept only threequarters of their quota. In the case of the United Kingdom, that equals nine flights a year. The observation flights carry sensors, and the observation regime can only be as effective as the sensors that are employed. Four types of sensor are initially permitted by the treaty: optical and video cameras, infrared line scanners and synthetic aperture radars. The aim is to be able to detect military activity day and night in all weathers. The maximum level of resolution will distinguish a tank from a tractor. The treaty requires certain persons—the flight crew, the flight monitors and accompanying military personnel—to participate. The purpose of the order is to deal with certain privileges and immunities that such persons will be granted in accordance with the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations while they are carrying out their missions. The order is necessary for the United Kingdom to give effect in domestic law to the provisions on privileges and immunities. The order is made under section 1(2) of the Arms Control and Disarmament (Privileges and Immunities) Act 1988. 4 The privileges and immunities are straightforward. Broadly speaking, they are the same as the normal, comprehensive diplomatic privileges and immunities that are enjoyed under the Vienna convention by diplomatic agents. However, the order means that the open skies personnel do not get all the immunities that are relevant to residence in the United Kingdom, such as the inviolability of the private residence. However, they receive immunity from criminal jurisdiction and they have a personal inviolability in most cases of civil jurisdiction. Their papers, correspondence and property are also inviolable in such cases. The treaty on open skies has grown from a seed that was sown 38 years ago by President Eisenhower. It has sprouted in recent years, in the thaw of the cold war. It has a role in ensuring that the future of international relations is warmer than the chill of the past. I commend the order to the Committee. It will grant immunity to the personnel who carry out treaty provisions.

4.36 pm

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): We welcome the order, which is a significant step forward in the process of confidence building in the wake of the break down of the old antagonisms that existed during the cold war. Perhaps the Minister could explain a couple of points to us. I have read some literature on the subject, from which I understand that there is a problem about Cyprus. Turkey may not allow Cyprus to adhere to the treaty—an issue that arose during negotiations. I do not know the current position. The more comprehensive the treaty, the more effective it will prove. If Turkey adopts the attitude that I have outlined, it is incumbent on the Government and other members of NATO to put the squeeze on that country to ensure that it does not prevent the adherence of Cyprus to the treaty. The treaty comes into operation only after 20 of its signatories have ratified it. It is only a beginning, but it is a substantial beginning. The Opposition would like the Government to pursue the extension of the treaty. I am sure that all members of the Committee have read the treaty from beginning to end. [Interruption.] Did the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) say that he had read the treaty?

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives): On a point of order, Mr. Jones. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has confused me with my hon. Friend for Bury, South. Are we discussing the treaty or the privileges and immunities that it confers on some people?

The Chairman: As I understand it, we are debating privileges and immunities.

Mr. Harris: So you confirm, Mr. Jones, that we are not debating the treaty, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) suggests?

Mr. Rogers: It is nice that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) is doing your job for you, Mr. Jones. In view of the Minister's explanation, I believed that discussion of the treaty would be in order. However, the hon. Member for St. Ives has been known for many years for his desire to stifle free speech. 5 The questions that I asked were relevant. If the hon. Member for St. Ives applies himself, he may see a connection between my comments and the privileges and immunities that he mentioned. If we discuss the number of countries that ratify the treaty, we also consider the number of people who receive diplomatic immunity. I believe that it is in order to consider the number of countries, and thus the number of personnel who will be affected. Perhaps, now that I have identified a connection, the hon. Member for St. Ives will allow me to continue with my remarks, if they are in order.

The Chairman: They are in order.

Mr. Rogers: Of the 25 countries that were original signatories to the treaty, besides the USA and Canada, there was 14 NATO countries, five ex-Soviet bloc countries and four countries that made up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I asked the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government would diligently pursue the extention of the treaty because, for example, not all of the Soviet countries are included. The treaty, which I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Ives has read because of the diligent nature in which he conducts his business, mentions in article 17(3) that "This Treaty shall be open for signature by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia" and so on. The treaty mentions many other republics that constituted the USSR. Georgia became a late signatory at the time of the signing of the treaty, but the other republics have not become signatories. Within those countries are some nuclear powers. So, although we might have overnights of the Russian federation, if there are no overflights for observation of other aspects, the treaty is not as comprehensive as we might think. The southern hemisphere and the middle east-including Israel, Pakistan or China—are not covered by the treaty. Is the Minister actively pursuing the extension of the treaty, which will, perhaps, lead to an extension of this order, giving diplomatic immunity to the people concerned? The other point that confused me is that people who will have diplomatic immunity under the treaty will have it only while they are in an aircraft above the skies. I presume that their immunity would extend if they crashed, which would give them the right of residence in some sense—perhaps permanently, if they did crash. What is the position about the ownership of aircraft? Originally, the Russians were insisting that we could overfly their territory in their aircraft only and not in ours. There was another argument about the installation of sensors in their aircraft and whether they could have supervision of the sensorial equipment. There was also discussion about the dissemination of collected data and whether it should go to other countries as well. That is critical because of the people requiring immunity who are flying in the aircraft. Will the Minister explain the present position to which the Russians have agreed, about the actual ownership of the aircraft? As I said, the Opposition look forward to the treaty because it is an extension of our original request of a general rundown in nuclear weaponry, which is probably that best form of verification that can take place. Satellites afford some type of cover—of course, they do not carry people who would require diplomatic immunity—but they 6 are fixed and can be predicted, whereas aircraft flights are much less predictable, especially if the joker flights, which are envisaged in the report and in which people would have diplomatic immunity, were allowed to go ahead as well. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how many flights can be implemented of the nine flights within the first three year period, but 12 flights normally that are allowed. Was there final agreement on joker flights—the mavarick flights that gave no more than a minimum amount of notice about flight path and positions? The treaty and any orders arising from it demonstrate the Government's and the signatories' desire to a peaceful and open relationship the treaty is a commitment to peace and is an extremely significant document in itself. I applaud the Government for pushing the treaty through and giving it their support. It is a significant step forward and it is probably the most significant confidences building measure since the cold war broke down.

4.44 pm

Mr. Lennox-Boyd: I am delighted to respond to the hon. Gentleman's queries. I am grateful to him for accepting, on behalf of the official Opposition, the provisions of an order which the Committee unanimously agrees is appropriate and necessary. The treaty is currently signed by the 16 NATO members, the five ex-Warsaw pact east European states, Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Georgia and Kurdestan. Any other of the former Soviet Union successor states may sign before entry into force or may accede afterwards. For six months after entry into force, accession by members of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe may be considered and thereafter the possibility of permitting other states to accede will be actively pursued too. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are most certainly encouraging the ex-Soviet states to sign up, as are the other skies parties, and we shall pursue that most actively. In relation to Cyprus, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that under the arrangements, flights are not allowed closer than 10 km to the borders with countries that are not party to the treaty. That means that flights over the United Kingdom sovereign base in Cyprus which are, of course, United Kingdom territory, are not practically possible—the bases are not 10 km wide—unless Cyprus accedes, which we very much hope will be the case. Turkey has to accede for the policy to come into operation. I understand that Turkey has already acceded.

Mr. Rogers: My query was not whether Turkey would accede but whether it was blocking Cyprus because of the mini-pohtics of the eastern Mediterranean.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd: When we speak of Cyprus, we are speaking of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, the Greek-Cypriot Government. I shall comment briefly on the numbers of observation flights. Each state party has agreed to receive a maximum number of flights a year—its passive inspection quota. In Britain's case it is nine flights a year; for three years thereafter it is 12. Each state party, which includes the United Kingdom and others, may if it wishes conduct as many nights over the other state parties as it is liable to perceive. The position is reciprocal: the number to which we have acceded passively is the number that we may conduct actively on another signatory state. 7 The hon. Gentleman mentioned the choice of aircraft that may be utilised, any state party may designate one or more types of aircraft for use as observation aircraft. The United Kingdom plans to use an RAF Andover initially; there will be strict certification procedures for all aircraft and their sensors.

Mr. Rogers: It is interesting to discover that we are using Andovers, but I presume that that is over this country. I want to know the ownership of aircraft used for surveillance of the Russian federation, for example. Do we have to use its aircraft or can we use our own?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd: I am sorry, I should comment on that. Negotiations are currently being pursued with Russia about whether it will enforce the taxi option—the use of Russian aircraft to overfly Russia. We are pursuing the matter and at present negotiating through the Western European Union in Vienna. The matter is not yet concluded. On the exchange of data, the negative film and the magnetic tape that contains the data will be shared between observed and observing states. All other state parties will be able to purchase copies of that material from the originator.


Let me give some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman. The treaty will be monitored by the open skies consultative commission in Vienna, which has been established to monitor the implementation of the treaty and to iron out problems.

I shall add one comment to what I said earlier about Cyprus. Cyprus cannot apply until the treaty has come into force. We do not know whether it will apply, but we want the CSCE states to do so. The hon. Gentleman referred to Turkey's attitude to a Cypriot application, which is at present speculative. The Turkish Government have given no sign of their views and, as far as we are aware, are bringing no influence to bear on that matter. We hope that Cyprus will join in due course.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Committee has considered the draft Treaty on Open Skies (Privileges and Immunities) Order 1993.

Committee rose at nine minutes to Five o 'clock.


Jones, Mr. Martyn (Chairman)

Body, Sir Richard

Gerrard, Mr.

Gillan, Mrs.

Greenway, Mr. Harry

Harris, Mr.

Heppell, Mr.

Hughes, Mr. Robert G.

Lennox-Boyd, Mr.

Nicholson, Mr. David

Richards, Mr.

Rogers, Mr.

Sumberg, Mr.