HC Deb 17 November 1969 vol 791 cc848-50
Mr. John Fraser

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement about the arrest of the Nigerian diplomat in the constituency of Norwood last Saturday.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

Police inquiries took place on the morning of 15th November about a car which was causing a serious obstruction in a No waiting area in Brixton. The licence plate bore a different number from the Road Fund licence disc and there was a possibility that the vehicle might have been stolen.

Mr. Gomwalk, who was not at this stage known to be a diplomat, returned to the car, and refused to give any explanation of the ownership. During questioning by the police, a hostile crowd gathered, a struggle took place, and in order to prevent a breach of the peace Mr. Gomwalk was arrested and taken to Brixton police station. His identity and entitlement to diplomatic immunity were established while he was there and he was released.

In the meantime, a disturbance developed as a result of which six other persons were arrested, against whom proceedings are now pending. In the circumstances, it would not be proper for me to make any further comment.

Mr. Fraser

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the police in Lambeth will continue to work with all sections of the community and do what they have done hitherto—try to maintain the best possible race relations within the borough? My right hon. Friend has already confirmed that the car registration plates differed from the Road Fund licence disc and that this car was parked in the most congested and clearly marked "No waiting" area of my constituency. Can he also confirm that this diplomat did not produce his diplomatic papers at the time and that while people enjoy diplomatic immunity in this country they have an equal duty with all other members of the community to try to maintain good relations in the places they visit?

Mr. Callaghan

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for those comments. The police certainly endeavoured to deal with this matter in a manner which would have caused the minimum damage to any relationships either with any Government or with any diplomat, or, indeed, with any normal member of the public. If this gentleman had co-operated with the police by telling them what was the nature of the ownership and had answered a few simple inquiries, the whole matter would have been over very quickly. Alas, Mr. Gomwalk did not do so.

Mr. Farr

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the vehicle was carrying a C.D. plate on the front or the back? Have Her Majesty's Government considered inquiring into the great latitude which C.D. plate holders have in this country and whether there is not a case for tightening up the regulations?

Mr. Callaghan

That is a wider question. But as the reply given in the House on 22nd October last showed, there were about 26,000 cases of diplomats who declined to pay traffic penalties in the Metropolitan area during the last 12 months. Diplomats really do have a responsibility to conduct themselves, when they are in this country, in a manner that is expected of ordinary citizens here.