Scottish Greens Opposed Immunity for Bank

On the 25th of November John, on behalf of the Scottish Greens opposed a statutory instrument (International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2015 draft) as it went in front of the whole Parliament. The draft order was to grant the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, its staff, and premises, privileges and immunities from prosecution for any of its operations in Scotland.

John had previously opposed the draft order at a meeting of the Parliament’s Justice Committee, which you can read about here:

Unfortunately the Parliament voted to approve the order by  109 For and  5 Against


You can watch John speaking to oppose the Order using the link below. Skip to 2:27:50. Alternatively you can read a transcript below the video.

The transcript of John opposing the order follows below:

John Finnie:

This order relates to international organisations’ immunities and privileges. There is a request that such immunities and privileges be applied to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

We are told that the privileges and immunities will protect the independent exercise of the organisation’s functions. One might reasonably ask what functions require criminal immunity. We are also told that the approach will provide a level playing field with regard to the bank’s operation, but the level playing field that I would like to see is one in which everyone adheres to the law.

We are also told that the purpose of the approach is to ensure that the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will be free from undue influence in its affairs—which apparently means the requirement to adhere to the law of Scotland and pay taxes in Scotland.

Two groups will benefit from the approach. The organisation will benefit from immunity from suit and legal process, inviolability of its archives and premises, relief from non-domestic rates, exemption from devolved and local taxes and exemption from prohibitions and restrictions on imports and exports. The other group who will benefit is made up of individuals: staff and “experts on a mission”, who will benefit from immunity from suit and legal process in respect of official duties and exemption from devolved and local taxes.

Christine Grahame:

Will the member take an intervention?

John Finnie:

No. [Interruption.] Well, yes, I will take an intervention.

Christine Grahame:

As the member knows, the Justice Committee reported on the order and voted in favour of its going forward, by eight to one.

John Finnie:

I am grateful for that piece of information of which I was aware.

The request comes not from a businessperson or directly from the United Kingdom Government but via the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. Many people might reasonably anticipate that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice would come to the Justice Committee to exhort people to adhere to the law of the land. I asked him what approach he would take if an individual or business approached him to say that they wanted to transact business as long as they were granted immunity from criminal prosecution.

It is clear that the approach is intended to be business as usual, but that is not the new politics that I understood the Scottish Parliament to want to deliver. I encourage all members to vote for a system in which everyone in Scotland adheres to the law of the land and pays taxes. Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Bruce Crawford:

Will the member give way?

John Finnie:

I am happy to—

The Presiding Officer:

I am sorry, Mr Finnie, but you have concluded.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson):

The order will confer legal immunities and privileges on or in connection with a new international organisation, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is not an ordinary bank but a specific kind of international organisation known as a multilateral development bank. Its purpose is to provide finance and advice to address the gap in investment in infrastructure in Asia.

The UK Government has signed an international agreement that provides the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with privileges and immunities in all states that become members. States that are members range from Iceland to Germany. Some privileges and immunities relate to reserved matters and have been conferred by the Westminster process. The equivalent order in Westminster was approved by both Houses of Parliament without opposition and by the Privy Council on 11 November.

As some privileges and immunities relate to devolved matters, the order that we consider will add the new body to a list of organisations that enjoy similar privileges and immunities in Scotland. The list is in the schedules to the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) (Scotland) Order 2009, and includes, for example, the International Maritime Organization and the European Police College.

Privileges and immunities were also granted, pre-devolution, to other multilateral development banks, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which has a similar function. Privileges and immunities are commonly granted to international organisations. Under international law, those entitled to diplomatic immunity are expected to obey the law of their host state.

Let me be clear. This organisation and its officials will be expected to comply with the laws of this country. Membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank provides considerable opportunity for those working in the financial and professional services sector in Scotland. The sector employs almost 100,000 people directly and about the same number indirectly. Scottish companies already have a strong background in these fields. If Scottish businesses are to be able to take advantage of the potential work that the UK’s membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank might generate, the order is necessary. The order was considered by the Justice Committee, which recommended that the Parliament approve it. I call on Parliament to approve it this evening.