Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) (Amendment) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd April, be approved. —[Mr. George Thomson.]
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I think that the House expected that the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs would have presented this Order to the House. While I recognise that it is not very long since we last discussed the question of dual citizenship, I think in December of last year, when the Diplomatic Privileges Order then involved 21 countries, nevertheless this Order, although small, is important because it adds The Gambia to the list of countries which then qualified. I understand that the reason for this late addition is because The Gambia did not attain independence until 18th February this year.
I would have thought that the Minister of State would have explained the Order in some detail, because while my hon. Friends on this side of the House welcome the Order, nevertheless the granting of diplomatic privileges and immunity even to this West African country is always one which closely interests this House. The House is always interested in the granting of any especial dispensation to any individual from the laws and customs of the United Kingdom. I should have thought that this Motion gave the Government a chance to explain the range of diplomatic privileges and immunities which are listed in Schedule 1 of the Diplomatic Privileges Act, 1964.
This Order refers to Section 2(6) of that Act which, in turn, refers to Articles 37 and 38 of Schedule 1, being Articles of the Vienna Convention having the force of law in the United Kingdom. Article 37 in the Schedule refers in turn to Articles 29 to 36 specifying privileges which, to give an example, the members of the family of a diplomatic agent forming part of his household shall enjoy if they are not nationals of the receiving State.
I think that the House would like to know from the Minister of State, who 1064 looks as if he is about to reply, the answers to certain questions: first, whether this Order involves any extension of privileges previously conferred; secondly, how many people are involved? The latest population figure for The Gambia is 316,000. We should also like to know whether, as the Diplomatic Privileges Act, 1964, came into force in October last year and there is no retrospective arrangements within it, this gap of seven months to May, 1965, will mean that those who will now come under the Order will be liable to tax or whether they will somehow have some retrospective arrangements in connection with tax liabilities on the emoluments which they will receive because they will receive the immunities and privileges set forth in the Order.
I hope that the Minister of State will confirm that the head of mission and ho diplomatic staff are granted inviolability in respect only of official acts in the matter of civil and criminal jurisdiction and that all other members of the staff have no immunity. The questions, therefore, are whether there is an extension of privileges, how many people are involved, what is the tax liability, and whether the Minister of State will confirm that there is a difference between treatment accorded to head of mission and diplomatic staff and that given to other members of the staff in connection with civil and criminal jurisdiction.
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)
I did not rise immediately to explain the Order because I thought that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations, who dealt with the main Order on this subject on 14th December, had explained it very adequately to the House and I know that the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) took part in that debate. But I am very glad to be able to give the noble Lady the answers which she seeks. The extension of diplomatic immunity and privileges, with which the Order deals, is a matter on which the House is properly sensitive.
The point at issue in this amending Order is short and simple. As the noble Lady knows, several thousand people in 1065 Commonwealth countries have dual citizenship. Before the Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) Order, 1964, was passed, these people were not legally entitled to claim the protection of the Diplomatic Privilege; Act, 1964. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations, who regrets his inability to attend tonight, explained the purpose of the parent Order very adequately to the House on that occasion.
Two points are important to repeat in this context. The first is that the Order did not refer to members of Commonwealth commissions who are permanently resident in the United Kingdom. In other words, it did not give any special privileges to people serving on a Commonwealth commission who are normally and permanently resident here. This was something about which the House wanted to be reassured.
Secondly, my hon. Friend made it clear that the Order in no way extended the range of diplomatic privileges and immunities conferred by the 1964 Act. This is the main point about which the House also wants to be reassured on this kind of Order. That was the parent Order in December, 1964. All that this amending Order does is to add The Gambia, the newest of our independent countries in the Commonwealth, to the list, for the reason that The Gambia did not attain independence until last February. I am sure that everyone in the House would like The Gambia to enjoy the modest and final accolade of full independence that any members of its High Commission who happen to have dual citizenship should be entitled to the normal diplomatic immunities and privileges that go with membership of a High Commission in this country.
The noble Lady asked several questions arising out of the Order. First, she asked whether it involved any extension of the immunities and privileges of the parent Order. It does not involve any extensions at all. Next, she asked how many people might be affected. I cannot, without notice, give her an exact answer, but the High Commission staff of The Gambia in this country is very modest, and I should be surprised if there were more than one or two people affected by the Order at this moment. But it is important, of course, that any- 1066 one serving a diplomatic mission of The Gambia in this country should enjoy equality of treatment with other Commonwealth diplomats here.
The noble Lady asked whether the fact that the Order was introduced only now, in May, 1965, presented any problems in relation to the period between independence day and today's date. I confess that this is a point on which I must seek information. If the noble Lady will forgive me, I will write to her and tell her about it. I suspect that there are not more than one or two people involved, but I should like to find out exactly what the position is and then give her the fullest possible information.
I hope that, in the light of this explanation, the House, having already given its consent to the main Order a few months ago, will feel that it is only reasonable that the privileges and immunities extended in that Order should be given to The Gambia on an equal basis with other members of the Commonwealth.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) (Amendment) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd April, be approved.