HC Deb 22 April 1987 vol 114 cc655-6
5. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has received seeking a review of diplomatic immunity; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eggar

We have received a number of recent representations on this subject. We agreed with the 1984 report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that it would be wrong to regard amendment of the Vienna convention as the solution to the problem of abuse of diplomatic immunities. That remains our view. We attach great importance to applying the provisions of the convention strictly and have made that clear to the Diplomatic Corps in London.

Mr. Bruinvels

I should like to express some disappointment, because I feel that the 1961 Vienna convention on diplomatic relations should be amended. Does my hon. Friend accept that more than 50 serious alleged offences committed here by diplomats from abroad is an unacceptably high level of charges being brought? Should not all diplomats behave in an honourable way when they are in this country, and not rely on diplomatic immunity? Should not the leaders of missions always agree to a waiver when the British Government request it? Should not the "London Diplomatic List" be amended to include all their relations, friends and employees who are also entitled to diplomatic immunity, and who at the moment seem to get away with it?

Mr. Eggar

Both the Government and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs disagree with my hon. Friend about the need to amend the Vienna convention. With regard to his comments on serious offences, the number of offences has fallen since the introduction of stricter standards in April 1985 in the White Paper. In addition, the number of withdrawals requested has risen since then. We make it clear to the Diplomatic Corps that we expect it to waive diplomatic immunity in respect of serious offences and, as my hon. Friend is aware, in at least one recent case diplomatic immunity has been waived.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that in the previous parliamentary Session we had a late night discussion on diplomatic immunity? One of the Minister's hon. Friends, the other police spokesperson, moved an amendment to deprive these people of their immunity. As a result of a debate on the issue he proceeded to try to withdraw the amendment, with the consent of his hon. Friends. The net result was that we on this side of the House voted to get rid of diplomatic immunity and the Tories ran for cover.

Mr. Eggar

I have taken careful note of the hon. Gentleman's version of events, but the fact is that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Government recently looked at the matter. We believe that diplomatic immunity needs to he retained, not least because our diplomats need the protection of immunity in sometimes hostile and lawless countries.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

But does my hon. Friend not agree that the British people believe that it is time we stopped pussyfooting around with what is diplomatic immunity and what is not? Is it not time that diplomatic immunity meant only countries' needs to deal with one another? Why should Nigeria have diplomatic immunity for parking fines? Why should speeding, rape and pillage be included? Is it not time that we got rid of that and said that we have diplomatic immunity only in respect of each other's foreign affairs and their representatives?

Mr. Eggar

I have taken careful note of my hon. Friend's views, but he is slightly out of date. The latest statistics show that the Nigerian high commission has considerably improved its record on parking. The number of unpaid fines has fallen from over 108,000 in 1984 to 23,000 in 1986, and is falling fast. My hon. Friend should give credit where credit is due.

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