HC Deb 17 March 1958 vol 584 cc907-9
23. Mr. Lipton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will take steps to limit the number of persons claiming diplomatic immunity in London.

Mr. Ian Harvey

Her Majesty's Government consider that the number of persons entitled to claim diplomatic immunity in the United Kingdom must always be limited to those who are properly qualified by the nature of their functions. Due regard must be paid to the principles of international law and to the requirements of reciprocity in this matter. For these reasons, any unilateral and arbitrary limitation of the number of privileged persons would be out of the question.

The power, which already exists in the Diplomatic Immunities Restriction Act, 1955, to reduce the immunities enjoyed by any class of members of foreign diplomatic Missions in London to the extent necessary to correspond with any limitation of the immunity enjoyed by Her Majesty's diplomatic servants in foreign countries, has been duly exercised.

Mr. Lipton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that all sorts and conditions of people are now entitled to these diplomatic immunities and privileges? Does he know of the case at Bow Street last Thursday when a British chauffeur who had parked an American car for 75 minutes in a restricted area "got away with it"? Is not this business of diplomatic privilege tending to get haywire and out of hand?

Mr. Harvey

It is possibly the interpretation of the situation by the hon. Gentleman which is getting a bit haywire. It is not the case that all sorts and conditions of people are entitled to claim diplomatic immunity. It is only those who come within the clear terms of reference to which I have referred.

Sir G. Nicholson

Is my hon. Friend aware of the widespread abuse of C.D. plates on motor cars? Is he aware that anybody can buy a C.D. plate—I or anybody else—and that the holder of such a plate is given preferential treatment by the police? I hope my hon. Friend will not say that this is a matter for the Minister of Transport. It is the business of the Foreign Office.

Mr. Harvey

As a matter of fact, it is the business of the Home Office.

Mr. H. Morrison

How many people are protected by diplomatic immunity in this country? Is the hon. Member aware that there is a developing public feeling to the effect that this is being overdone and that, as a result, some people can sail around and do what they like without regard to the provisions of British law? Ought not something to be done to limit the numbers of these extraordinarily privileged people?

Mr. Harvey

The right hon. Gentleman speaks with experience and, I think, knows that the numbers are limited under the terms to which I have referred. I can give him quite shortly the numbers of the heads of foreign diplomatic Missions accredited to the Court of St. James' and their suites. There are 3,090, including 898 wives, while there are 2,633 Commonwealth representatives, including 869 wives. The arrangements are reciprocal and apply to our representatives in foreign countries.

Mr. Bevan

In order to get the figures in some sort of proportion, will the hon Member consider telling the House the numbers in. say, New York and Paris and places like that?

Mr. Harvey

I am prepared to give a very full reply on this subject, but not just now.