HC Deb 28 April 1976 vol 910 cc358-60
4. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to foreign embassies in London concerning the number of parking fines unpaid by personnel on embassy staffs enjoying diplomatic immunity.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Roy Hattersley)

Every month a formal note is sent to the head of each diplomatic mission in London enclosing a list of the fixed penalty notices cancelled for members of his staff on the grounds of diplomatic immunity and requesting the head of mission to take appropriate action.

Mr. Jessel

As 53,477 fines were cancelled on grounds of diplomatic immunity in 1975—more than 1,000 a week—can the Minister of State say why other people in London should have to endure worse traffic jams just because diplomats who ought to obey the laws of the host countries in which they are working are exploiting their immunity for a purpose which was never intended? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do about it?

Mr. Hattersley

Other people do not enjoy the same benefits because other people are not covered by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which makes two matters quite clear. One is that we cannot distinguish between one sort of crime or offence and another. The other is that we must either sign the convention—every part and every aspect of it—or not sign it and thereby put our own diplomats abroad under grave threat and at very difficult risks. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and, as a London driver and occasional parker, I share some of the difficulties which he has described. But I do not believe that there is any alternative to the present system.

Mr. Goodhart

As the most persistent offenders, apart from Cuba and Egypt, are the oil-rich States of Iran, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, ought not we to consider some form of rate surcharge on the embassies of those States—[Interruption]— since the cost to London is £250,000 a year?

Mr. Hattersley

I did not quite get the final part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question because of the unanimous support for it which seemed to come from both sides of the House. However, I am sure that questions of a rate surcharge have to go to a Department other than the Foreign Office. On the general application of fines, I think that there is nothing that we can do.

Mr. Tugendhat

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this problem is probably worst in my own constituency and that there are sections of the diplomatic community who behave in flagrant disregard of the interests of the people of London? Does not he agree that, if he cannot do anything else, the Foreign Office could at least publish a list of offenders so that we might see which missions behaved in an irresponsible fashion and abused our hospitality so grievously?

Mr. Hattersley

I am sure that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would not make any contribution to good international relations or serve the purposes which we hope that missions in this country are intended to serve were we to publish such a list. What would most certainly be revealed by such a list is that, although there are bad offenders, there are other missions which behave in quite the opposite way and, although they are under no obligation to do so, occasionally refund the total costs of ignored parking fines immediately. But I do not think that discriminating between the good and the bad by publishing their names would really do very much to help.

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