HC Deb 27 April 1970 vol 800 cc983-8

9.1 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Maurice Foley)

I beg to move, That the Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) (Amendment) Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th April, be approved. Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your permission, I will deal with this Order and the next Order together.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

I think that that will be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Foley

The purpose of both Orders is to add the names of newly-independent members of the Commonwealth to existing legislation dealing with the privileges and immunities of diplomatic and other representatives in this country of independent Commonwealth countries. Neither Order raises any new question of principle in regard to privileges and immunities. They merely make adjustments consequential to the attainment of independence by new Commonwealth countries.

The Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland (Immunities) Order adds Nauru to the list of Commonwealth members in Section 1(6) of the Diplomatic Immunities (Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland) Act, 1952. Nauru has appointed a representative in the United Kingdom who will perform functions of a broadly consular character. This Order will enable a further Order to be made to confer immunities on him. Because he is a United Kingdom citizen, he will, in fact, receive only inviolability and immunity from the jurisdiction of our courts in regard to acts performed in the exercise of his functions.

The Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) (Amendment) Order, 1970, adds Mauritius, Nauru and Swaziland to the list of countries in the Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) Order, 1964. The 1964 Order makes special provision for members of Commonwealth missions in the United Kingdom who are dual nationals in that they are citizens of the sending country and also citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Prior to 1964 diplomats and members of their staff were not denied privileges and immunities on the ground that they were citizens of the United Kingdom. The Diplomatic Privileges Act, 1964, took away privileges and immunities from United Kingdom citizens in diplomatic missions of other countries, but, because of the large numbers of dual citizens involved and because of consideration for the special Commonwealth relationship, it was decided to make an exception in the case of dual citizens serving in Commonwealth missions.

The 1964 Order is amended from time to time as new countries join the Commonwealth. This is the third amending Order to be laid. We are not aware of any dual citizens in the missions of Swaziland or Mauritius, and Nauru has as yet no diplomatic mission in this country, and so the Order will, in fact, have no immediate practical effect.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I thank the Under-Secretary for his explanation of these Orders which extend diplomatic immunity to the representatives of Nauru, Swaziland and Mauritius, all of which, I understand, attained their independence in 1968. I should like to begin by saying that I am somewhat puzzled by the fact that while all these countries have enjoyed political independence for some time, it is only now that these Orders have been laid.

That leads me to ask what has been the position about diplomatic immunity for the representatives of Mauritius and Swaziland between independence and now. The situation about Nauru was explained. For example, has the High Commissioner for Mauritius, who is well known to most of us, enjoyed full diplomatic privileges during this time? When that question was asked in another place, our spokesman was told that the answer would be sent to him in writing. That was perfectly fair, but the Commons is entitled to know, too, and I hope that we will have an answer tonight.

Whatever the answer, these consequential Orders should be brought before Parliament more speedily when they relate to friendly countries. I hope that due note will be taken of this. The Under-Secretary had a good answer to explain the delay on the Bill which we have just discussed, and I hope that he has a good explanation of the delay with these Orders. However, we welcome them and are delighted that all three countries elected after independence to remain part of the Commonwealth.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I, too, welcome the orders which herald the arrival of these new members to full diplomatic status in this country. Their continued association with members of Parliament and with Whitehall will produce a two-way flow of ideas which, I am certain, will be of great value to this country and I hope that in a reciprocal way they will receive value from their association with us.

It is in a spirit of true friendship and respect for these delegations that I remind them that British citizens, and particularly residents of the capital city of London, are concerned about what they regard as abuses of diplomatic privileges which seem to have come to light recently and which seem to be on the increase.

On 26th November, last year, there was an excellent leader inThe Timesheaded " Abuse of privilege ". It included this paragraph: The Foreign Office must take firmer action to ensure observance of the law by diplomatic and other embassy staff, who—and this tends to be forgotten—have a duty to respect the law. Their privileges do not give them immunity from legal liability but only from the exercise of the local jurisdiction. The principle of diplomatic immunity is that it exists for the independence of sovereign states, not for the benefit of individuals. In mentioning this in connection with these Orders, I emphasise that I do not intend in any way to be offensive to the three countries to which the orders refer, but it would be fair to put the orders against the background that in the 10 months to October, 1969, it was found that there were 26,000 parking fines which diplomats had failed to pay. There were also 146 possible prosecutions for more serious offences which were not pursued because of diplomatic immunity, and I hope that the offenders in those cases are no longer accredited here.

I mention this only to suggest not only to those countries mentioned in the Order but to the heads of other delegations that it would be helpful for good social relations between their country and this coun- try that these minor requirements of the law, which are a great trial to the ordinary citizen, should wherever possible be observed by the countries concerned.

On 1st December last the Under-Secretary of State said that the whole problem of diplomats and parking tickets was being examined as a special problem—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is going a little wide of the Order. We cannot on this Order debate the actions of other missions.

Mr. Page

I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I was only trying to put it in as a background. In the particular context of this Order, I wonder whether there is any news of the special study which has taken place.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)

I agree with all the remarks which have been made about how we welcome these nations in, as it were. I think the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) mentioned that he hoped these things could be done more speedily. I have often found, when it comes to matters like immunities and privileges, that it is always in some ways harder to deal with one's friends and near relations, as it were, than with people with whom one is not so close. This is part of the problem, and I hope we shall learn something about it from my hon. Friend.

In passing, I want to make a point about these nations which are recognised and which join us with regard to what the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) said. He made a good point, and I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to it. We for our part have delegations operating in foreign countries. When it comes to immunities and privileges that are not specifically connected with the job, as it were—we have heard a graphic illustration—I hope our representatives abroad set a good example. My hon. Friend might wish to take up with those foreign embassies the question of immunities and privileges and whether we can look at the whole position of whether those people can fall in line with our practices. I hope that we shall learn—and I am sure that we shall—that our representatives have a good record in regard to this. I am sure that they have.

But we should make it quite clear to these people whom we are pleased to see. and to whom we offer immunities and privileges to do their job, that they should behave, as I hope our representatives do, in following the customs and practices of the people in whose country they are living.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Foley

I hope that the House will agree with my understanding that, although there has been reference to abuses, the fact that the names of these three countries are before us in no sense means that we are directing our attention at them in this respect.

Mr. John Page

I accept that, of course.

Mr. Foley

It is important to have that perfectly clear. Our representatives abroad will no doubt read their HANSARDS with interest, and if they need to mend their ways they might take heed of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis).

We are talking about a subject which, perhaps, calls for a little clarification. Representatives from foreign countries coming here or representatives from this country who go abroad have diplomatic status as soon as they arrive. I wish to dispel any impression that, somehow, our friends from Swaziland or Mauritius who have been here for a number of years have been operating, so to speak, in a state of suspended animation. This is not so. They are here as of right, and we welcome them.

This Order is concerned with the question of dual nationality, which is a different phenomenon altogether. We try to bring Orders of this kind every two years or so, as changes come about. The reason for these Orders now including two countries which have been independent for some time is that the third one. Nauru, only recently indicated that it wished to send a representative. We have, therefore, taken the three together rather than bring separate Orders before the House every few months. No one is upset in the process. Neither Swaziland nor Mauritius has any personnel on its staff enjoying dual nationality, so there has been no problem. The problem is raised now in the context of the representative from Nauru. This is a convenient moment to bring the three together in line with other Commonwealth countries, and that is the motivation behind the two Orders.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) (Amendment) Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th April, be approved.


That the Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland (Immunities) Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th April, be approved.—[Mr. Foley.]